Figuring out what to write about can be very difficult for the PTQ-playing Magic writer. I've always adhered to the Dave Price maxim — if I don't have something that I think is worthwhile to say, I try not to say anything. Balancing saying things that are worth saying with not sharing information that friends and compatriots need to have kept quiet for the upcoming event can be a hard thing. Too often, the answer I've gone to is to simply not write anything, which brings with it its own share of frustrations (not the least of which is missing the enjoyment of the writing process).
A lot of my opinions on what to write have changed in this last year. Many of you have let me know that you're excited to hear about any kind of new deck information or strategy, even if it isn't directly applicable to the current tournament season. You are hungry for information, period. With that in mind, I'd love to present you the Legacy deck I built for the recent Grand Prix: Columbus. I think that it is incredibly strong, and only stands to grow stronger if the world morphs into a “post-flash” environment.
The initial invention of the “Prison” archetype can be traced back to the early days of Standard. Chris Cade is widely credited with the archetype, essentially a non-counterspell mana-controlling deck that would lock people out of the game with a combination of Armageddons, Winter Orb, and Icy Manipulator. Whether the archetype is originally Chris Cade's or not, regardless, it was very successful in that window in which it was created, and has never again really had much chance to shine in the spot light.
Fast-forward to testing I was doing for Grand Prix: Columbus. I can't remember what event I was at, but Tommy Kolowith (of Vintage fame, the Team ICBM member who piloted my Sullivan Solution to great results at several Vintage events) was throwing numerous Legacy decks at me to help me get a feel for the format. He was mostly walloping me, game after game after game. Among the many things I tried out was a revamping of the Stasis deck that I'd given to Gary Wise and Tony Dobson for the Masters. It had lost Gush (a huge blow), but it had gained Reset, and I thought it might be a worthwhile call based on that.
I was wrong. He smashed me again and again, and I tweaked the deck slightly, including Propagandas in the main. The results versus Goblins were quite surprising.
Even drawing a single Propaganda would win me the game. It wasn't that the Propaganda would win the game by itself (though it was close), but that it would buy me such an incredible amount of time and shut down their basic paths to victory that I'd be able to win based on the rest of my deck.
The deck sucked, but suddenly, I had a handle on what I wanted to do. I wanted to play Propaganda. Or, if that didn't work, Ghostly Prison. I built deck after deck after deck, and all of them were simply too narrow to beat multiple things. Quite by accident, I ended up throwing in a Life from the Loam engine into one deck to complement some Scroll Racks, and suddenly I had a deck that was beating Goblins incredibly regularly, and doing quite good against a number of other decks.
After massive amounts of tuning, I ended up with the following deck. Flash hadn't broken yet when the essence of this deck was built, but this list includes the alterations that came about as a result of the emergence of Flash.
Normally, I prefer not to go through a card-by-card description of the deck, but I think there is a lot of utility in using that format for this list:
One of the decisions that I made with this deck was that it was going to run a bunch of hateful cards that could potentially win matchups all by themselves. I had spent a long time trying to revamp Ben Dempsey's old Temporary Solution (from Grand Prix: Boston a few years back), but hadn't managed to make anything work. Enlightening into Bullets was one of the elements of that deck that I wanted to preserve.
The Life from the Loam engine is widely considered one of the most powerful card draw engines in the game, and in conjunction with the 4 Scroll Racks, you essentially have a “Tax-Rack” card advantage and card selection combo that allows you to ship away your dead cards (especially with Dredge to help), and pull up massive card draw at the same time. Either element of the combo can help you to find the other half, and they both make the potential “dead” aspect of “wrong” bullets become far less relevant.
I've included the Jotun Grunts here partly because of the way that they contribute to the engine of the deck. Good cards of all stripes get to be recycled (some of the “communist” Madison-folk in town like to call them my walking, blocking Gaea's Blessings), but they are also incredibly relevant against numerous popular cards in the format, whether it is Threshold or other decks where “graveyards matter”.
Swords and Exalted Angel in a large amount of the matchups are simply the cards that keep you alive to get your deck going. Yes, Angel doubles as a fantastic bona-fide finisher, but mostly these cards are here to make sure that you don't die before the engine of your deck takes over to dominate your opponent.
Swords begins to introduce us to one other fantastic element of this deck. Creature hate is shockingly good versus the Kiki-Jiki versions of the Flash kill. Clearly, Swords doesn't do a thing versus the Disciple kill, but Swords can be very disruptive to the more common version. I won't try to delve into the arguments of which Flash deck is better. I do know that the Kiki version seemed far more prevalent on Day 2 of the Grand Prix.
Normally, you'd see far more Armageddons in a Prison-style deck. With Scroll Rack and the Life from the Loam engine, I felt that the deck could find a ‘geddon when it was needed. Also, the format is just so incredibly fast that you might not even want to ‘geddon until a bit later in the game. I started with three, but quickly moved down to two, and I'm really happy with that number.
The deck is awesome at ‘geddon-recovery as well. Running 4 Mox Diamond and 1 Citadel leave you with a lot of mana post-geddon, and the 2 Flagstones do a great job of making ‘geddon seem almost one-sided. Darksteel Citadel ends up being fantastic in the deck for other reasons as well. As an indestructible (i.e., un-Wastelandable), tutorable mana source, the ability to call one up can be very, very important. Life from the Loam is good enough at recovering card advantage later, the ability to simply guarantee another mana is just so good.
Elephant Grass is, essentially, a cheaper, temporary Ghostly Prison, good for those games where you need to be able to drop a Prison effect, but still have extra mana available to do other things. Ghostly Prison encourages the opponent to lay more and more mana to be effective, setting them up for a potentially damning Armageddon, and often locking out attacking completely post-Geddon.
The shocking thing about Propaganda effects are how much they mess up many of the decks in the format. Goblins largely wins on the back of being able to have a Piledriver do massive amounts of damage, or out of the card advantage afforded by a Ringleader. Prop-effects nullify this. Piledriver simply doesn't do that much if they can't get in multiple creatures, and multiple creatures don't much matter if they can't do anything. Ghostly Prison also really messes with Aggro-control style approaches. Aggro-control thrives in being able to put out a clock and save mana up to prevent anything scary from happening. The clock and mana are both attacked by a single Ghostly Prison.
A funny casualty of the incidental hate that Ghostly Prison throws out is on the Flash decks. Again, Disciple-Flash isn't affected, but the infinite Karmic Guide kill generally has some amount of trouble finding the infinite mana to make the kill happen. This sends the opponent into needing to power up an infinite Carrion Feeder to get through in a single swing (which is totally reasonable), but this buys you more time to finding chump blockers, swords, more Prisons, or Geddon to lock out the opponent. Elephant Grass, amusingly, stop the Feeder from even being able to come in at all.
Initially, this slot was a Rule of Law, generally used as an anti-combo measure, but a day's worth of testing by I@n DeGr@ff prompted him to send me a withering e-mail detailing how useless this card was against other opponents. Eventually, I settled on Trinisphere, a card that was not only good against random combo opponents (like High Tide), but also shockingly good against counterspells, and could combine Game 1 with ‘geddon to lock out an opponent from any plays. Perhaps most interestingly, this card's interaction against Aggro-control opponents was so devastating that it easily made my final cut.
Tormod's Crypt can be useful to randomly nix out the graveyard of an opponent who cares about their grave, but perhaps more importantly, Kiki-Flash can't win while this card is in play. Essentially, as can be seen with lots of the hate cards that exist in the deck, you force your opponent to create more and more facets to their combo if they are going to be able to go off.
Who knows what you might want to randomly turn off! Pithing Needle can be so useful against virtually any opponent that the one copy seemed like a great inclusion. Again, versus Flash, you can set up yet another card that they have to get rid of before they can go off (again, not against the Disciple version).
There are an incredible amount of creatures that have abilities that it might be useful to turn off. Versus Goblins, after dropping enough Ghostly Prisons, Cursed Totem is the card that finalized your total lockout of their ability to win, killing their Siege Gang Commander and Goblin Sharpshooters as potential outs. Versus Flash, their Kiki, their Carrion Feeder, and any protective creature (like Sylvan Safekeeper or Benevolent Bodyguard) all turn off, and against random surprises, you can also find yourself providing incidental hate to mana-creatures, Nantuko Shades, Azorius Guildmages and others.
You never know when you are going to need to Seal of Cleansing something. Aura of Silence also provides the potentially frustrating extra mana cost that can sometimes randomly stop an Enchantress deck or other combo deck.
Serving as random creature kill (or more occasionally, other permanents), this is another card that can wipe away a slew of attackers, or preemptively keep Flash from going off (naming it at one to kill off the Carrion Feeder). Clearly, this can be hugely powerful against many of the aggro-control decks when dropped at one (for Mongoose) or two (for nearly everything else).
1 Porphyry Nodes
People always seem to think that this card is targeted, like The Abyss. But, no, it's not. This card essentially found its way into the list as a way to foil Meddling Mage on Swords to Plowshares, and as an all-purpose general answer to creatures as you're holding the table with an Exalted Angel or Grunt. Awesome, in general.
While The Tabernacle doesn't make mana, it does provide a lock out for creature decks in conjunction with Armageddon, and helps increase the problematic nature of Ghostly Prison. The Volrath's Stronghold is there to guarantee that you can use Grunts to keep your deck full, or to recur threat after threat against any of the more controlling decks. Life from the Loam is a great engine, but it is pretty easy to have it be so “great” that you deck yourself. Stronghold is insurance against that.
Obviously, I should probably start with Flash. “How do you do against Flash?” people ask. The answer is actually surprisingly good. The Kiki-Flash builds are essentially a two-card combo for the win. With every piece of hate, though, they require another “piece” to make their combo into a win. This buys you time. In addition, a timely Swords to Plowshares can stop them from winning as well. Most Flash decks only tend to run one or two bounce spells main. After boarding, it gets worse. Numerous “lock” mechanisms can be dropped that can keep the Flash deck from winning, and almost none of them have the same name. Where the game 1 is often a coin flip, the games 2 and 3 tend to be pretty heavily advantaged. Overall, this is a good match, though not great.
“But what about the Disciple kill?”
Well, there trouble enters into paradise. I have virtually no relevant disruption game 1. Games 2 and 3, I have a bit of relevant disruption, but it really isn't that much. The game percentage there escapes “approaches zero” to something a wee bit better, but still not that good. Ultimately, though, the Disciple version does seem to randomly kill itself from time to time, even as it oftentimes wins on turn 0 through 2. Overall, it seems like this matchup is somewhere between 8-12%, depending on the particular decklist and player. A one-in-nine to eleven chance isn't good, but essentially, my gut told me that the metagame would largely take care of this version of the deck, and I would take care of the metagame. The wisdom of this choice is obviously up for argument, but I will say that I saw very, very little Disciple-kill in Day 2.
Here is the matchup that is the reason to pick up this deck. Goblins can absolutely get the crazy, bombastic quickity-quick kill, and blow you out. But, in general, they have to. And they have to push it through Swords to Plowshares, and do it before you drop a Ghostly Prison. Even one Ghostly Prison slows them down like molasses, and the second all but locks them out unless they are flooding. Follow that up with a Cursed Totem / Geddon, and the game generally ends. I tested constantly against the second place Legacy deck from the Grand Prix before going to the event, and it was just a blow out, again and again.
Whether it is Big Fish, Fish, Threshold, Slivers, or what have you, they all fall prey to the same problems. Ghostly Prison is very problematic, my creatures are bigger, my card advantage is hard to stop, and my creature control is pretty copious (especially after boarding). The matchups vary wildly depending on the version (Slivers is the hardest, Threshold, generally, the easiest), but it swings between 60% to 80% depending on the build, and that is when you are running against a skilled pilot. If Club Gitmo becomes a player in the post-GP Legacy, they all have the tools to make this matchup much, much better, but for now, it really doesn't have much to worry about.
Well, what deck are we talking about? If we're talking about the decks that went to the Top 8 of Grand Prix, then it's a good matchup. The heavy Swords-proof deck will do a little bit better, but neither deck is very good at handle the anti-creature package of, post-board, 1 Elephant Grass, 4 Ghostly Prison, 4 Swords, 3 Drop of Honey effects, 2 Engineered Explosives, card advantage and big men. The access to Leyline is slightly annoying in the way that it shuts down the Life from the Loam engine, but the deck doesn't need that, and it can still get rid of Leylines.
On the other hand, the Deadguy Ale B/W deck that Chris Pikula introduced seemingly aeons ago seems like it would probably be a terrible matchup. The difference? Hippie, Sinkhole, and Vindicate. These things can keep you off balance long enough to lose the match, and provides them answers to annoying cards like Ghostly Prison. When combined with a sideboard that generally includes Leyline of the Void, it is usually enough to knock you off balance long enough to win the game.
This matchup is almost laughably good. They have Standstill and (sometimes) instant card drawing, but you have Life from the Loam. They just can't keep up. Crucible is one of their best weapons against you, but you can throw crazy amounts of card advantage and card quality at them. Generally, what ends up happening is that at some point something terrible sneaks through (like a Geddon), and they fold. Trinisphere is an all-star in this matchup, making their counters incredibly bad.
Normally, I would give you a full-fledged blow-by-blow, but I think the gist of the matchups is probably more interesting. I will share all of the deck choices of players around me.
Round 2 — Flash-Kiki
Game 1 — He gets me really quick, with a Force of Will to prevent my Swords from Disrupting him.
Game 2 — I drop Turn 1 Tormod's Crypt and Samurai of the Pale Curtain. Turn 2, I drop Ghostly Prison. I keep dropping cards that stop him from winning, and eventually, he dies to my random creatures.
Game 3 — I drop a Turn 1 Cursed Totem, and tutor for a Tormod's Crypt. This buys me enough time to drop more cards that keep him from winning. He bounces some of them, and is able to get out a 4/4 Carrion Feeder out. It beats me to 2 when I ‘geddon, and he scoops once I swing with Exalted Angel on the following turn.
Neighbors: 3 Kiki-Flash, 1 Burn
Neighbors: Threshold, Landstill, Faerie Stompy, Counterslivers
Round 4 — Affinity
Game 1 — He kills me on turn 3 with Disciple / Atog / Fling. 18 to 0 life, real quick.
Game 2 — I tutored for a Ghostly Prison, and with Wasteland stop him from attacking. Then I get another one, and lay a Samurai of the Pale Curtain. He scoops to Armageddon and an Exalted Angel.
Game 3 — He starts out quick and gets me low. I drop a Samurai of the Pale Curtain, but he has out an Enforcer, a Disciple, and a Plating. I break the Plating, and Swords the Enforcer, drop some Prisons, Geddon, and recover from 4 life with an Exalted Angel, always leaving up mana for a Swords to save myself from a Shrapnel Blast (if he has it).
Neighbors: Goblins, Kiki-Flash, Counterslivers, Landstill
Round 5 — Goblins (with Tin Street)
Game 1 — I drop the first Prison, the second Prison, and then a Cursed Totem, and he scoops after Geddon / Angel.
Game 2 — He gets a very quick kill off of a powerful double-Lackey, Ringleader draw.
Game 3 — I drop multiple Prisons, and eventually kill him with an Angel. He gets me down to 22 at one point (the lowest my life total went to since turn 0).
Neighbors: 2 Kiki-Flash, Goblins, Super-Gro
Round 6 — Deadguy Ale
Game 1 — He disrupts me into oblivion.
Game 2 — I only barely survive this one, with a Ghostly Prison holding off his creatures, and a very unlucky Bob finishing him off when he was only a turn away from being able to use his own Swords to Plowshares to save himself and then pay for a Ghostly Prison and kill me.
Game 3 — He lays a Leyline and follows up with massive disruption. I have outs most of the time, but don't have the time to get to them.
Neighbors: Goblins, Disciple-Flash, Threshold, Pox
Round 7 — Landstill / ScepterChant
Game 1 — He eventually start trying to attack with Mishra's Factory as I continue to drop threat after threat and draw cards with Loam. Eventually, I make him fold under Jotun-Geddon.
Game 2 — Essentially the same game, but I have to get rid of a Crucible.
Neighbors: Trinketmage-Counterbalance, Deadguy Ale, Kiki-Flash, Threshold.
Round 8 — Kiki Flash
Game 1 — I double mulligan, and put up virtually no resistance.
Game 2 — I drop a turn 1 Pithing Needle and tutor for a Turn 2 Tormod's Crypt. I keep dropping more and more cards that stop him from winning, and attack with a Jotun Grunt. He concedes to a second Grunt and ‘geddon (with Prisons out).
Game 3 — I drop a turn 1 Samurai of the Pale Curtain and tutor for a turn 2 Cursed Totem. Turn 3 is a Ghostly Prison, and on Turn 4 I drop 2 more problem cards. He scoops to geddon, and I have out 6 anti-combo pieces (only 2 of which have the same name).
Neighbors: “Dark” Boros, Landstill, Kiki-Flash, Big Fish
Round 9 — Standstill
Game 1 — He gets me down to 1, but the whole time I'm building up card advantage with Life from the Loam and tearing apart his mana. I easily push throw a Geddon and he scoops to the Angel when he doesn't find land on the next turn.
Game 2 — After a very, very long game, he manages to get a Scepter with Chant on it into play when he's at 5 life. There is simply no time for him to possibly finish the game, and we time out.
Neighbors: 2 “Dark” Boros, Goblins, Kiki-Flash
Round 10 — Kiki-Flash
Game 1 — He kills me on turn 2. Oh, well.
Game 2 — I drop numerous anti-lock components when he bounces them EOT and goes for it. He is running Sylvan Safekeeper, and for some reason my brain fails me when he tries to go off and I Swords the wrong thing at the wrong time. Had I played it right, it would have been him with 1 card in hand, 3 land, and a 4/4 Feeder versus me with a full hand, 18 life, numerous lock components that I could drop, and an Exalted Angel. But instead, I lose. Derf, derf.
This mistake puts me on tilt for much of the rest of the day.
Neighbors: Kiki-Flash, 2 Dark Fish, Miracle Grow
Round 11 — Kiki Flash
Game 1 — I drop a few ways to stop him, and he Forces two of them and then bounces the last one to get me.
Game 2 — I have too many locks out for him to combo win, so he tries to win off of a Hulk. In four turns, I fail to find any additional answers. He points out I messed up a play that would have held him off. God. Yay for tilt.
Neighbors: Threshold, Faerie-Stompy, Sligh, Kiki-Flash
Round 12 — Landstill
Game 1 — This game actually goes really quickly. I knock him low with Loam-Wasteland, drop a Trinisphere, and then pretty much do whatever I want the rest of the game.
Game 2 — See game 1. Include an early Exalted Angel.
Neighbors: Threshold, Goblins, Landstill, and Kiki-Flash
Round 13 — Kiki-Flash
Game 1 — We both mull, and I drop lock pieces that he bounces before going off.
Game 2 — I double mulligan. I still put up an awesome fight and stop his turn 2 kill with on lock component. I get him low, but he drops out a Flash-Hulk (no combo possible) to end with a Safekeeper and Hulk in play. He plays “countersliver” on me, and stops my 3 attempts to kill the Hulk.
Round 14 — Threshold with Red
Game 1 — He drops me to 4, but has out only 1 land, and no creatures when I start attacking with Angel (holding back a Swords).
Game 2 — See game 1, but he only drops me to 11.
Neighbors: 2 Goblins, 1 Dark Boros, 1 Dark Fish
Round 15 — Nick Eisel with Disciple-Flash
Game 1 — I drop fast locks against Kiki-Flash, and have out 4 when he just kills me with the Disciple kill.
Game 2 — He triple mulligans. I drop an Angel and start hitting him with it, Wastelanding his non-basic and Aura of Silence out to slow down petals. He's still in it, but doesn't get to 2 mana, and scoops when I go to 26 life.
Game 3 — He double mulligans. I drop a pair of Samurai of the Pale Curtain and an Aura. He chains up a Samurai and Forces it on the way down. I drop and flip an Angel, and he scoops after not finding the kill.
Neighbors: Goblins, Dark Boros, Landstill, Supergrow
I ended up in 32nd place. I'm still sad that I ended up making that terrible mistake the first round of Day 2. Gah. Who knows where I would have been if I hadn't?
Overall, Club Gitmo seems like just an incredibly powerful deck in Legacy. So much of the format is completely blown out by it. Flash is likely to go the way of the dodo, so much of the random Leyline hate is going to disappear, helping this deck out quite a bit.
I had a complete blast playing this deck. As a somewhat old-school player, it had so many things that reminding me of some of my favorite classic archetypes, and as a tournament player, there is something really exciting about using Enlightened Tutor for such powerful bullets. There are so many legal cards in Legacy that Enlightened Tutor should be able to find something to blow out basically any matchup. As the metagame shifts, all you have to do is figure out what that card would be. Club Gitmo, I expect, will be here to stay...
Until next time,