Legacy is changing all the time and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the format for me is deckbuilding. We can throw together lists during a lecture in class on the bus or when we just can't get to sleep at night. But how do we know if something is actually good? This week I'm looking at a system for stress-testing a deck in a gauntlet. This isn't any gauntlet though - it's meant to mimic the common strategies in Legacy to test whether the new list can tackle the usual threats. It's an economical way to test because it's nearly impossible to play against everything one might run up against at an event.
This stress-test gauntlet is in some ways unrepresentative what we'll actually face at an event. For example it includes a combo deck even though Tendrils of Agony decks are exceedingly rare in events. That said it's important to see if we can handle something that has the power to not only kill us on the second turn but also topdeck a win through discard and mana denial. It was a little difficult putting this list together because I wanted to keep it short but also comprehensive enough so that I would feel prepared if I went to an event after only testing this gauntlet. Some decks like Enchantress are excellent to test against but sometimes distort your sideboarding. If you try to beat Enchantress you might be running three useless Reverent Silence on the sideboard when you sit down to play! Consequently these decks represent common threats to overcome and building a sideboard with them in mind results in a generally useful board. The only way you'll benefit from testing this gauntlet is to play sideboarded games. You can make your testing more efficient by playing say ten game 1s and then do batches of sideboarded games so you don't have to continually de-board and re-board. Let's get to the gauntlet!
Why should I test against Merfolk? Like Fish decks of old Merfolk is uniquely able to apply pressure while beating down with some (admittedly bad on their own) creatures. It has a good match against most aggro-control decks and can exploit spells like Standstill to keep the pressure going. Merfolk is getting more and more common and is resistant to many sweeper spells. It's a good stress test because it will show whether your deck can outrace or out-grind aggro-control.
What conclusions can I draw from the results? If your deck can handle Merfolk's surprisingly quick clock it stands a good chance against other tribal decks like Elves and Goblins that aim to apply a little disruption and beat in. If you're finding you have a bad match against it then consider whether you can change your playstyle for better results. Are you playing into Daze? Are you using your life total as a resource and only handling threats when you must? For example it can better to take some damage and use Damnation (or Pernicious Deed or Wrath of God or so on) to sweep the board and then use that Swords to Plowshares in your hand to stop the next creature coming out instead of expending Swords to save some life and have a less effective Damnation later.
- 4 Arc-Slogger
- 4 Gathan Raiders
- 4 Magus of the Moon
- 4 Rakdos Pit Dragon
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 3 Taurean Mauler
Why should I test against Dragon Stompy? First it's practical to test against this deck. It's putting up strong results lately including a Top 4 at the Chicago Grand Prix. If my info from Dave Williams is correct the Bazaar of Moxen Legacy tournament this past weekend in Italy resulted in Dragon Stompy beating Ad Nauseam in the finals. Wow! The deck can get an early Trinisphere or Chalice of the Void out and stop a deck from using cheap cantrips to get more lands in play or it can use one of its many Blood Moon effects to completely shut down a deck that relies on several colors. Having locked up mana that way Dragon Stompy can play an efficient beater and wrap up the game.
What conclusions can I draw from my testing results? If you find yourself losing to Blood Moon effects consider whether your deck has enough basic lands to get out from under Magus of the Moon or Trinisphere. With early disruption in the form of Daze or Thoughtseize it's possible to take the teeth out of the dragon by stopping acceleration or early threats. If you find yourself consistently losing to this deck think about whether your list is fast enough to actually compete against decks that play at this pace. Remember White Stax is also capable of playing a Trinisphere into an Armageddon and decks utilizing Life from the Loam such as 43 Lands can also attack mana right out of the gate. You might find cards like Hydroblast or Slaughter Pact on the sideboard ease the early assault. Such cards are also helpful against Burn and Zoo decks so they're worthwhile to put on the board for other matches.
Why should I test against Team America? If you haven't encountered this deck before its plan is to hit the opponent with lots of land disruption like Sinkhole and Stifle to enhance Daze and drop cheap beaters that capitalize on the delay. Also the deck plays Tombstalker. If you cannot handle Tombstalker your deck cannot compete in legacy. It's one of the premiere threats and dodges a lot of regularly played removal like Snuff Out Smother and Lightning Bolt. The deck comes out of the gate early but suffers in the long game. If you can eliminate their first and second threats you're in excellent shape to win the game.
What conclusions should I draw from my testing results? If you can make it to the long game you can conclude that your deck can efficiently answer Tombstalker with few resources. While a card like Sower of Temptation is a beating against Team America if it resolves it's unlikely to hit when it matters. If you're finding that you get devoured by Tarmogoyf with no lands on the board you might have to add in efficient answers on the sideboard (like Spell Snare) or adjust your strategy (crack fetchlands on their turn so they can only either Stifle or play a threat). Team America dovetails with the previous two decks because all three come out of the gates fast and pack disruption. If you can handle the early game can you also handle the long game? Check out the next two decks in your testing...
- 2 Countryside Crusher
- 3 Dark Confidant
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 3 Knight of the Reliquary
- 3 Tarmogoyf
- 2 Terravore
- 1 Wickerbough Elder
Why should I test against Aggro Loam? While not a pure aggro deck Loam combines very strong attackers with a really consistent backup plan. If the Loam player can't get you with a Tarmogoyf that hits on the first turn then they will play Dark Confidant into Life from the Loam Wastelanding your board while cycling Tranquil Thicket until they draw a Terravore or Burning Wish to seal the deal. Testing against Loam will illustrate whether your deck can handle threat after threat and overwhelm a player who could be drawing three cards a turn while using Knight of the Reliquary to pull up Volrath's Stronghold.
What conclusions can I draw from my testing? Aggro Loam is very strong but susceptible to Counterbalance locks and early disruption like Spell Snare and Hymn to Tourach. If you can apply pressure in the form of one of these cards you have a good shot at stealing the game. However if the Loam player can get their Loam engine running and you cannot stop it you might still lose to them anyway. Testing will illustrate your deck's power to dominate the early game as well as stop a slow engine like Academy Ruins or Genesis from taking over. Is it better to bring in graveyard hate to stop the long game engine or bring in more creature removal? Loam decks can attack from multiple angles so your deck will benefit from being prepared for big beasties and Armageddon effects.
Why should I test against Counterbalance/Top? The Counterbalance lock is easy to assemble and very potent in Legacy. When backed by several cards that steal opposing creatures CounterTop can use your own resources against you without ever tapping out on their own turn. This combination results in a very resilient control deck that can wait you out playing a land every turn until you make a move and then punishing you for it. CounterTop decks come in many forms so getting a handle on how you plan to best the lock is useful when evaluating whether your deck should attempt to outrace it or answer it through cards like Krosan Grip.
What conclusions can I draw from my testing? If you find yourself getting locked down by the enchantment is there a way to outrace it? For example in my testing with Naya Zoo I found that if I saved cards like Rift Bolt in hand and cast Chain Lightning first I could count on the Bolt to get around Counterbalance for the last few points of damage. Otherwise it can be useful to pack cards like Krosan Grip or Pithing Needle in your maindeck or sideboard to stop Sensei's Divining Top. Competitive Legacy decks must have a plan for combating Counterbalance and you'll need to find out how your deck responds.
Why should I test against Ad Nauseam Tendrils? On the upside combo doesn't pop up that often which is good because most decks just up and lose to it. ANT can kill an opponent before that Runed Halo stopping Tendrils or the Counterbalance hits. I put this last because sometimes you just have to accept that you're a dog to combo and move on. I think it's important to test against with blue decks because the match can play out far differently than we think it might. A deck with full packs of Daze Spell Snare and Force of Will might be good against ANT or it might not be able to both stop the early combo as well as win before the opponent can set up Lion's Eye Diamond and Burning Wish to try the combo all over again. If your deck plans to have a chance against combo it has to back up early disruption with lots of heat.
What can I draw from my testing results? Testing against Tendrils decks can help you decide whether you actually want to consider combo in your sideboarding. Marijn Lybaert wrote last week in his Merfolk tournament report that he didn't actually have cards on his sideboard to bring in for duds like Threads of Disloyalty in his maindeck. You can see if your deck coupled with several sideboard cards can actually give you a chance or whether you'll be wasting space on your sideboard. If it's a close match like when piloting Merfolk against ANT then devoting space in the board can really make a difference. It'll also demonstrate to you that the deck doesn't lose to someone just bringing in Chalice of the Void or Duress.
These six decks will give you a good idea of how well your deck plays against the field and results in an honest assessment of whether you should be piloting your stack at an event. Losing to one or two of the decks on this list isn't a problem but punting against most of them is a sign that maybe your list is better run at a casual table with friends. Maybe you'll find that you'd rather run one of the gauntlet decks instead!
Like the list? Disagree completely? Try it out and then write back in the forums or send me an email with your opinion!
Until next week…
legacysallure at gmail dawt com