“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
Feeling a little lost when it comes to Legacy? You’re not the only one. Stop flailing around helplessly. Sit down for story time and see if this helps you sort things out.
Our story begins way back in May 2010 when things were pretty normal as far as Legacy goes. This was before we listened to the Bed Intruder song and when there was only one oil spill occurring in the Gulf and people just fetched nonbasics like it was the most entertaining thing in the world. Naive times indeed…
Before Grand Prix: Columbus there were a lot of factors that made Zoo look like it was the deck to beat especially when Mystical Tutor was banned. Mind you Zoo was never (and has never) been the abstractly “best” deck in the format. It is a dead-ahead aggro deck that punishes poor draws bad mulligan decisions and cutesy inbred metagames. Zoo likes it when Counterbalance is busily trying to beat Merfolk and Combo and when Counterbalance is devoting too many sideboard cards to Reanimator — because then it becomes soft to a pure heartless consistent killing machine like Zoo which is already good against most other creature decks.
When the DCI started chugging Haterade and blasted Mystical Tutor out of the format leaving us with a metagame where Zoo suddenly seemed like a fantastic choice headed into the Grand Prix — perhaps even the deck to beat — things changed dramatically. Coming off two StarCityGames.com Opens where it took first and second place and putting up a deceptively good showing at the previous Grand Prix (even though that Grand Prix somehow helped to get Mystical Tutor banned) Zoo had a huge target on its head.
Several things happened along the way here that are important to understand:
First Zoo mirrors are awkward things where cards like Lightning Helix Umezawa’s Jitte Basilisk Collar Sylvan Library Kitchen Finks and so on are at a premium as are cards like Bloodbraid Elf and Ranger of Eos… You know the cards you generally don’t want to play when Zoo isn’t outrageously popular and cards often not good enough for Legacy. Zoo loses to “big” Zoo but that deck is sort of… bad. Zoo starts to get inbred.
Second when everyone else decides to beat the crap out of Zoo they can do so pretty easily. They do this in different ways — adding Perish to Merfolk playing Counterbalance decks with Goyf and Firespout playing Perish and Mogg War Marshal and Goblin Chieftain in Goblins.
Beyond tuning existing decks people turned to alternative ways of cheating creatures into play that didn’t need the Graveyard or Mystical Tutor so that you have a bunch of bad Oath decks running around using Show and Tell and Sneak Attack and Hypergenesis and Shelldock Isle to beat up on Zoo by slinging Progenitus and Emrakul into play as quickly as turn 2. (Especially vulnerable to this style of deck are inbred Zoo decks playing tons of Sylvan Libraries and Stoneforge Mystic to beat other Zoo decks.)
At the Grand Prix Zoo got pulverized and a bunch of crazy-looking Oath derivatives made the top 8. Emrakul fever was at its height but it was really the two consistent Blue decks from the pre-Emrakul version of the format that proved to have legs: Merfolk and Counterbalance. Go figure.
Turns out that Jace Firespout and Counterbalance/Top makes for a good deck. Additionally a properly metagamed Merfolk isn’t bad no matter how many people try to tell you it is.
Well actually Merfolk is quite bad. Almost as bad as Mishra’s Workshop and Zoo. And Legacy Dredge is uh good.
It also turns out that Goblins which was enjoying a comeback by being well-positioned against Reanimator Counterbalance and Merfolk before is still good against a metagame of Counterbalance Merfolk and bad Oath derivatives. Also good against these decks are resistant combo decks like Aluren and Survival of the Fittest decks on account of their ability to switch gears and attack on multiple fronts. Unfortunately the best versions of these decks have cards from this set called Portal: Three Billions where all the good cards cost you all your other Magic cards unless you’re able to run the borrows by spamming the world via Facebook. I’m still sifting through “Do you have Imperial Recruiters?” messages from before Columbus thank you very much and I know most of you people didn’t even attend the Grand Prix and can’t spell Aluren let alone play the deck at a functional level. That makes it even more enjoyable.
So it looked like Aluren was going to be the coolest “new” deck at the Grand Prix until Caleb Durward channeled Roland Chang and got his Madness on with everybody’s favorite mispronounced Mythic Vengevine. This version of Survival could go aggro against blue decks and win the long game via Vengevine but also could win quickly with Survival and had protection with Force of Will along with mana disruption for those crazy bad-Oath derivatives.
It also had Aquamoeba. I’m pretty sure damage on the stack is still gone though. Yeah. Aquamoeba. I have no idea.
Counterbalance and Merfolk are good and Goblins and Survival are good against those decks to some extent so Zoo needed to reboot itself a bit now that opponents are choosing to “interact” again and stopped pretending that a 3/3 for G wasn’t good enough for this format. Or it can just devolve into Burn if that’s your thing (and it definitely seems to appeal to some people beyond the I-have-$10-and-want-to-play-Legacy-too crowd).
Lots of creature decks are viable in this format and enchantment removal seems important given Survival Counterbalance and Moat so what else is good? How about Storm combo? Seriously.
Hell yes Storm combo! In theory almost no one has hate for Storm decks anymore (because they’re all terrible without Mystical Tutor because only Mystical Tutor was broken in that deck). Musical interlude?
Hell yes musical interlude!
DCI Invader song: They climbin’ in your format and snatchin’ yo Tutors up so you better hide your LEDs hide your Rituals hide your LEDs hide your Rituals and hide your Petals cause they bannin’ errbody up in here.
We’ve ended up with this Legacy metagame where U/G/R/W CB-Top and Merfolk are the best decks and Goblins and Madness Survival are top-tier foils to those decks and mid-range decks or tough-to-classify decks like Lands Enchantress Stax and Aggro Loam are still more or less viable and Dredge still sucks and Zoo got hated on so fast and so hard that the bad Oath-derivatives that lose to Merfolk and CB-Top are already fading.
So if I were going to play Legacy what would I play? This is a story all about how my life got twist-turned upside down and suddenly I’m making like Max McCall laughing off Nacatls at the Miserable Ball.
I played TES at the Legacy Challenge IV on 8/28 in Blue Bell PA. Let’s review how this went down and why.
The First Rule of Storm Club: Your Deck Name Must be an Acronym
Storm made the top 8 of Grand Prix: Columbus in the hands of Bryant Cook and then made top 8 again at the Denver SCG Open. Generally people in the Legacy community call this deck TES but apparently the Ad Nauseam Tendrils moniker has stuck. Perhaps whoever is naming these decks enjoys sticking it to the DCI as much as I do?
Reviewing the top 16 of the last two SCG Legacy Open tournaments the field looks to be focusing on decks that are viable against Countertop while still being resistant to Zoo. Almost no one is focusing on fighting combo at all outside of the fact that Counterbalance decks and Merfolk decks are naturally resistant to the strategy to some extent by nature of their design. Merfolk in particular is annoying as TES does not run any basics at all making Wasteland much better and enhancing the power of Cursecatcher Daze and Spell Pierce.
So this article is about me playing TES after a week of testing and then probably next week I will take a look at some decks that I like that are vulnerable to TES so that I can keep playing TES. Hey at least I’m keeping it real.
Here’s the deck:
I changed two Chain of Vapors from Bob Yu’s deck (which is basically Bryant Cook’s Grand Prix deck with a Pyroblast moved main in place of a Silence) into a Deathmark (to kill hate bears or buy time against Goyf) and an Innocent Blood (to kill Emrakul or something). I left Eye of Nowhere despite brainstorming for a non-zero amount of time and not coming up with any valid reason for why I would want that card.
If you’re not familiar with this deck here’s how it works:
Cast a lot of spells. Nine would be a good number.
Then play Tendrils. Tendrils copies itself and your opponent dies.
Got it? It’s really that easy.
Maybe that’s a little too brief. Okay have a more expanded version:
This deck centers around Infernal Tutor and Burning Wish and their interaction with Lion’s Eye Diamond — much like Belcher except this deck actually can filter draws and nominally interact with opponents via Orim’s Chant and Duress. The unusual timing on Lion’s Eye Diamond means that you can play Rituals and dump artifact mana into play then cast Burning Wish or Infernal Tutor; you then activate Lion’s Eye Diamond with Wish or Tutor on the stack. This makes you discard your hand getting you Hellbent for Infernal Tutor and in both cases leaving you with mana floating when your Wish or Tutor resolve. So you might do something like this:
Turn 1 – Land Duress.
Turn 2 – Land Dark Ritual Lotus Petal Lion’s Eye Diamond play Infernal Tutor respond by breaking Lion’s Eye Diamond find Ad Nauseam with Infernal Tutor and play it with the mana floating.
Ponder and Brainstorm help sculpt your draw so you can race aggro decks like Zoo or dig for protection against Blue decks. The sideboard is actually quite flexible allowing for wins via Empty the Warrens or looping with Ill-Gotten Gains. The spicy maindecked Empty the Warrens gives the deck a nice way to race if you can only hit six mana early instead of the seven you need to Infernal Tutor into Ad Nauseam.
The fact that you have both Wish and Infernal Tutor lets you use Tutor to double-up on your best racing spells like Lion’s Eye Diamond or Dark Ritual. You can then play Ritual and LED Burning Wish for Ill-Gotten Gains to set up an LED loop similar to the old Iggy Pop decks. The idea there is to dump mana into play respond to Wish by breaking LED grab your Ill-Gotten Gains and then play Ill-Gotten Gains and replay two mana accelerants and Infernal Tutor using the Tutor to get Tendrils to win the game.
You can also try to Hail Mary into Diminishing Returns or use it to reboot a hand where Empty the Warrens won’t win and/or Tendrils isn’t quite lethal yet.
Basically this deck isn’t quite as fast as Belcher but it also isn’t as all-in and it can be pretty complicated at times due to a wide range of decision trees. It is a blast to play and very powerful. I also know a lot of people didn’t believe me when I said it was already viable and likely to get better over time. Why?
I think Goblins is well-positioned against Merfolk and CB-Top and it continues to be a solid and consistent performer at large events. I also believe the Madness deck is deceptively good (and potentially even better than the builds we’ve seen so far) and likely to remain popular; even though that deck has Force of Will Wasteland and Daze it really isn’t designed to race TES. TES also crushes Lands and generally has an acceptable Countertop matchup when opponents aren’t packing any dedicated hate cards especially early in a tournament if they don’t know you’re playing TES.
Speaking of which here’s some helpful tips: First play Bloodstained Mire in your list. I actually had it as a four-of in my build but took them out because I thought I was loaning out my Goblins deck. If you lead with Mire and pass your opponent will probably put you on Goblins and may botch their first turn. Another tip is to make sure to hide the fact that you’re using Storm by not showing a notebook or paper with B R and U repeating everywhere with scribbles and cross-outs all over it. Instead “accidentally” reveal Thopter tokens when you take out your deck.
No matter what sort of trickery you use Merfolk is a pain. Thankfully the anti-Merfolk propaganda machine is picking up steam again despite the fact that it won a Grand Prix and an SCG Open.
Here's a brief report on my tournament from 8/28 when forty players showed up at Alternate Universe in Blue Bell to sling some wacky Legacy decks:
Round 1 – Win 2-1 vs. Stax (1-0).
Game 1 my opponent mulliganed to six then played Plains Mox Diamond discarding Flagstones and passed. This clearly signals Stax which means things could get awkward for me very quickly. My options were either try to sculpt my draw or go for it immediately and hope I can race with Empty the Warrens. This was a weird spot to be in; my opponent had only three cards and if he was banking on using Crucible of Worlds/Wasteland or Trinisphere to slow up the game I'd win with Empty if I went for it. On the other hand if he has Ghostly Prison or Magus I'm in big trouble.
I made fourteen goblins by playing my entire hand. As it turns out he had neither and I win.
Game 2 he plays Chalice for one and despite Chalice making things a little awkward I make twelve goblins as the game state is likely to get worse the longer I wait. I’m not sure what he needed to draw the mana source or the Magus — but the end result after the next draw step is Magus of the Tabernacle says “hi” and all my goblins go away.
Game 3 I Duress after my opponent takes a mulligan binning a Trinisphere and leaving him with an actionless hand. I win with Tendrils on turn 3.
Round 2 – Win 2-0 vs. Zoo (2-0)
This matchup can’t be that good now that we don’t have Mystical Tutor. Right? Both games my opponent played a turn 1 Wild Nacatl.
Game 1 I won the die roll got attacked to sixteen then won on turn 3 with Ad Nauseam.
Game 2 I lost the die roll got attacked to fifteen then won on turn 2 with Ad Nauseam.
Round 3 – Win 2-1 vs. Survival Opposition (2-1)
Opposition is one of my favorite cards of all time. If you knew your opponent was playing a base blue-green Survival deck with Oppositions would you think it was likely that Force of Will would be in that deck? I did.
Game 1 I made a whole bunch of goblins with Empty the Warrens. Fred played out a bunch of blockers by making a Deranged Hermit to try to stabilize. I attacked him to seven and then did a mini-Tendrils to win.
Game 2 I kept a reasonable opening hand but kept drawing Infernal Tutors so I got this great idea to Brainstorm the second and third copies back into my deck by using a fetchland. I then drew Infernal Tutor and then another. Pro shuffler right here.
While I was doing this Fred was busy attacking me with Eternal Witness and Rofellos both of which had Haste as he had Survival active with Anger in the Graveyard. He used Survival to find a Glen Elendra Archmage so I had to play an Orim’s Chant on his upkeep to stop that from happening.
On my turn I was at seven and had to go all-in before Archmage got online. I had no Rituals just a bunch of Lotus Petals and Chrome Mox and a million Infernal Tutors. I played Infernal Tutor to get another Lotus Petal then imprinted another Infernal Tutor on a Chrome Mox and went for a Burning Wish. I could have made a small-size Empty the Warrens — but if I did that I’d lose to Wonder or probably just get raced with Survival up and running. So I went for the Diminishing Returns with no mana floating (having used a Burning Wish and having imprinted an Infernal Tutor).
My Diminishing Returns hand didn’t have Tendrils or an obvious win and my spell count was just short of lethal anyway plus Empty the Warrens still wasn’t good enough so there was only one obvious play: Diminishing Returns again.
If you’re not familiar with Diminishing Returns it doesn’t Exile itself it just goes in a new graveyard just like Timetwister. So I Wished for Ill-Gotten Gains and replayed Diminishing Returns. This time my spell count was high enough for Tendrils to be lethal but after exiling twenty cards and playing all those Wishes I had only three live cards left in my deck and I didn’t draw any of them.
This was still a really awesome game.
Game 3 I’ve basically realized that Fred isn’t playing Force of Will. I lead on Duress just in case and win on turn 2.
Round 4 – Lose 0-2 vs. Merfolk (3-1)
I’ve seen Brad Jarman around but I don’t think we’d played before this round. I wasn’t excited to play against Merfolk.
Games 1 and 2 I lose horribly. The first game I mulliganed a hand with only a fetchland for mana that looked like it would lose to Wasteland and kept a bad six and was pummeled. The second game I kept a decent seven and drew junk and had to use a mini-Tendrils to buy a turn which ultimately accomplished absolutely nothing.
This matchup seems really really bad. If your Merfolk opponent is playing lots of Lords and Kira you’ve got a shot — but against Wasteland Cursecatcher Spell Pierce Daze Force of Will and Standstill there can be no victory. Well you can probably steal some wins because TES is very powerful but this is probably the least favorable matchup among the top-tier decks.
This is currently a problem as Merfolk is relatively popular but I think this problem will diminish over time. Merfolk is always going to be present in the metagame — but as long as it isn’t overrun with it you can still play TES. Again it helps that your opponent may not know you’re playing TES.
Round 5 – Win 2-1 vs. NO Bant (4-1)
I had to play my friend Allen this round and knew he was on NO Bant which seems like another bad match-up – but I felt much better here than the previous round even though NO Bant has Spell Pierce Daze Force and CB-Top. It doesn’t produce the same consistent clock as Merfolk and has more dead cards; as long as you keep the CB-Top combo off the board you’ve got a shot.
Game 1 I led out with Duress seeing a hand of lands Daze and triple Brainstorms making my Duress rather weak. Unfortunately Allen couldn’t find anything relevant with those Brainstorms and a Ponder and when my Orim’s Chant resolved on turn 3 it was Ad Nauseam time.
Game 2 was close but Allen drew a billion counters (or more accurately five) and kept me from doing much while beating down with one Goyf.
Game 3 he kept a mana-light hand and got stuck on one land when his Brainstorm whiffed. I used double Duress to take his counters and then went off with Ad Nauseam.
Round 6 – ID into Top 8 (4-1-1)
Top 8 – Lose 1-2 vs. Dreadstill (4-2-1)
And here I thought only Rich Shay still played Dreadstill! This is one of the more depressing CB-Top matchups for TES as they have Wasteland and Stifle and potentially a very fast clock. Still this was a close match punctuated by me screwing up game 1.
Game 1 I stared down “Island Go” with my “Gemstone Go.” My opponent played Counterbalance on his second turn and I countered with Pyroblast which he countered with Force of Will. That’s a bummer man.
I played a land and passed. He then played a third land a Goyf and passed back. I played a Lotus Petal to see if I could check his library but he just let it resolve. I played another same thing – resolved. Then I played Orim's Chant. He checked his deck with Counterbalance on the Chant and revealed Vendilion Clique on top: a blank.
So with Chant on the stack he played Brainstorm. I had Dark Ritual and Ad Nauseam in hand plus an untapped land and two Lotus Petals. Therefore the right response to Brainstorm is to play Dark Ritual and then unless I’m facing Daze or Force of Will my Ad Nauseam will resolve post-Brainstorm (when my opponent put one from his hand on top of his deck as expected).
Instead I just let the Brainstorm happen and then walked a Ritual into it.
It is possible that I wouldn’t have won with that Ad Nauseam with a Counterbalance set on one or that he had Daze or Force — but making the wrong play certainly didn’t help.
Game 2 I went medieval. I played a first-turn land and Duress and followed that up with a turn 2 Lotus Petal Duress again Ritual Ritual Ad Nauseam. My love for you is a like a truck berserker!
Game 3 I kept a hand with a lot of lands and Ponder figuring I’d hedge my bet on extra mana given Daze Stifle and Wasteland. This proved to be a
wise choice when Nick revealed a Wasteland and then another. The third Wasteland on my Volcanic Island? That one hurt. The fourth Wasteland to
compete the Quad-Lazer Death Cannon well that just nailed the coffin shut.
Thoughts on TES
This deck is very consistent even without Mystical Tutor. The fact that you can’t fetch a basic Mystical for Ad Nauseam and then go off means that you’re playing a totally different game — but unless I was facing disruption (and sometimes even in the face of disruption) I was going off comfortably on turns 2 and 3 all day. Even more impressive I was often choosing how I went off (Tendrils Empty IGG). I was also doing all of this while optimistically maybe playing this deck at 70% proficiency. Probably less.
I never Wished for Eye of Nowhere Deathmark or Innocent Blood. The latter two came up sometimes in testing but the former well – I think it’s some kind of joke card. Maybe I’ll replace it with War Mammoth or something next time because that’s about how good it is. There are other better cards you might want; maybe Hull Breach or Pyroclasm perhaps another Ad Nauseam for the Countertop matchup or just shaving out some cards to make room for Xantid Swarms so you don’t scoop ‘em up against Merfolk.
Legacy is still a format in flux and it might seem counterintuitive to suggest you play Storm when Merfolk and Counterbalance are top-tier decks possibly even “the” top tier of decks. That said there is some logic in that decks people are fielding against that top tier – be it Burn Goblins Lands Junk / Rock etc – are highly vulnerable to a competent Storm player. Watch the metagame closely and see if you think you have more good matchups than bad with Storm right now. You might be surprised.
No Mystical? No problem.
Voltron00x on SCG TMD and The Source