We find ourselves at a crossroads in Legacy. Now that You Know What is gone the format is very much a wild landscape that is ripe to explore. Legacy is one of the absolute most fun formats to build decks for as there is so much possible particularly when the format is fresh from a "rotation." I would like to clarify a little bit thing more about You Know What. I have been very visible speaking about it getting banned but just to be clear:
1) It wasn't an argument to ban You Know What. It was an argument that I thought it would be banned so as to best prepare people for what is to come. There is a big difference.
I like broken formats. If it was still legal I would probably have better expected value at the upcoming StarCityGames.com Opens than I do now. But what I don't do is advocate format changes because I think it will give me an edge. In fact basically the only format change issues I argue are:
- Don't ban this card that people say to ban (like Bloodbraid Elf or Bitterblossom in Standard)
- Unrestrict/unban more cards (like Time Spiral Dream Halls Grim Monolith etc)
- Change the rules of the format (like new Extended)
2) I am extremely anti-banning in general. I even argued against banning You Know What initially. However I eventually stopped arguing against it when I realized it was inevitable and instead shifted my efforts to helping inform people of what was to come.
The reason I did it that way was to help demonstrate how You Know What actually would get banned. I wasn't attempting to persuade anyone that it should be banned as my article was not a letter to the DCI. I'm very much in the camp of “the smaller the ban list the better” — but I was giving the best advice I could to prepare people for what was to come. (Advice I should add that involved predictions that came true.)
My goal was not to persuade but to predict and assist. The way I generally argue that a card should be banned is to play with it and win with it. When I see the writing on the wall I speak up.
3) As for the Legacy community I understand completely the divide that sometimes appears between many Pro Tour players and many Legacy players though I do my best to advocate the format and the community. My thoughts on Legacy players are best summed up here .
Additionally I would argue that I'm perhaps in a different boat than many other Pros when it comes to Legacy since it is a format very near and dear to my heart. (Plus it's one of my better formats as I finish well in big Legacy events a greater percentage of the time than many other formats.)
I say all this to tell you that I am very familiar with the format. I play it care about it and love it.
So where is the format going?
The days to come are exciting ones for Legacy. For several months now we've lived in a world that was totally warped around an unusual and absurdly dominant deck. Now that the engine has been shut down there's no clear consensus on what decks will rise to the top.
Many point to decks that did well around the time of the Grand Prix such as CounterBalance Merfolk Show and Tell Ad Nauseam and B/G/W Junk. Others point to less-played decks that have put up a few good finishes such as 37 Land.dec Aluren Belcher and Dredge — and these decks have very vocal advocates. Still others point to those controversial Legacy decks that depending on who you ask are either pillars of the format or stone-cold terrible such as Goblins New Horizons Zoo or Natural Order Bant. Still others are in the process of exploring any number of obscure combos re-imagining old strategies or creating entirely new aggro/control strategies with all their favorite cards.
No matter how you slice it when healthy Legacy is the model of diversity. There is no format with close to as many possible realistic decks. Now that the format's foundation has been completely shaken it's anyone's game .
Outside of just building on past strategies there are also plenty of new cards since Vengevine mostly drowned out everything else in Rise of the Eldrazi M11 and Scars of Mirrodin. In addition to the newly-printed cards there are cards like Dream Halls and Grim Monolith (unbanned earlier this year) Time Spiral (unbanned now) and of course Vengevine itself.
A number of voices in the Legacy community called for Vengevine to be the fall guy. They claimed that at least then a well-loved archetype could be preserved a bit longer. At first the claim was that Vengevine would be effectively banned anyway… but Legacy deckbuilders are stepping up to the plate and working to break Vengevine itself and with a vengeance. If there was any doubt about the determination of the Legacy community it's pretty clear they are putting their money where their mouth is.
The fury with which the community is tackling the job of "breaking Vengevine" is kind of amazing. It's as though the DCI imprisoned one of their own and the only way they can realistically fight for his freedom is to break Vengevine again . The battle seems to be equal parts "Inspiration because Vengevine is actually insane" "trying to prove that the wrong card got banned" and "Revenge."
I am super excited to see what these decks look like once they're tuned. It does seem that they sort of ride the line between Madness and Dredge/Reanimator. This list is very rough (and needs ten sideboard cards) but it does point to some of the options available for consideration.
I tend to prefer Intuition to Buried Alive as the ability to Demonic Tutor is much appreciated plus Force of Will is Max-Awesome. Still both are worthy considerations. Buried Alive tends to push you more in the direction of including a Triskelion a Phyrexian Devourer and a Necrotic Ooze. I want the Ooze to work — but the trouble I have when making lists like this is that once I add the reanimation spells the question quickly becomes why am I not just playing Reanimator?
Reanimator had huge success at the beginning of the year once Entomb was unbanned. Mystical Tutor's controversial banning was definitely a blow but Lim-Dul's Vault is actually a pretty good replacement. Reanimator's real problem was twofold: You Know What was a really bad matchup and much of the hate that people used to fight it caused splash damage to Reanimator.
We live in different days now so I suspect this strategy will have good chances of returning to Tier 1 (though surely it won't be as dominant as it was earlier this year).
Entomb raises some interesting questions now. For instance should Vengevine decks use Entomb? In an ideal world Entomb will serve as a one-mana 4/3 haste creature if your beatdown deck is functioning properly. That's pretty darn good especially with cards like Memnite Ornithopter and any sort of accelerators that let you play turn 1 Vengevine more often. Tireless Tribe and Putrid Imp are particularly exciting in a deck like this as they combo with a Memnite or a Basking Rootwalla to ensure every Vengevine in your hand is attacking on turn 1.
This is kind of random — but while we're on the topic of Tireless Tribe I am a little bit fascinated by him at the moment due to Twisted Image. Twisted Image plus About Face (or Inside Out which is a little slower but uses fewer colors) means we have redundancy when it comes to Tireless Tribe going for the quick turn 2 kill.
I don't know what we could use to provide redundancy for the Tribe itself — but if you can crack that code you might have something sweet on your hands. The best I have so far is Daru Spiritualist — but if you're going to Nomads En-Kor a guy you're already doing a lot of work. Still maybe there is some weird sort of White Weenie deck with some nut draws. Twisted Image is particularly nice here as it can cycle even when you don't "do it."
It's unclear what direction Vengevine strategies will evolve towards but there's a ton of interesting space to explore. Who knows? Perhaps the decks discovered will be interesting enough to even soften the hearts of some of the opponents of the recent banning. When thinking about Vengevine decks I mentally break the categories of support cards down like this:
1) Getting Vengevine into your graveyard
Buried Alive effects (such as Entomb Intuition and Fauna Shaman) discard outlets (Putrid Imp Tireless Tribe Aquamoeba Wild Mongrel Careful Study Riddlesmith Hapless Researcher Firestorm Lion's Eye Diamond) and milling (Hedron Crab Memory Sluice Glimpse the Unthinkable Cephalid Breakfast combo).
2) Getting Vengevine onto the battlefield from the yard
3) Cards that compliment Vengevine enablers
Bloodghast dredge flashback Bridge from Below Reanimate and… well pretty much any graveyard cards plus maybe even a few crazy cards like Glimpse of Nature (which could potentially pay you off big for so many cheap creatures).
Additionally to really utilize Vengevine you're probably going to want to be able to play a real beatdown game. Otherwise you're just a combo deck that does twelve damage instead of twenty. Additionally I find that Vengevine decks should probably have a fairly significant number of interactive cards. Otherwise you're just a really slow and bad Dredge/Breakfast/Anything deck. I may have been in favor of the December Banned and Restricted list changes but I will tell you one thing; if the Legacy community finds a way to actually break Vengevine again they are going to laugh their asses off at the DCI.
Before we get too far from Glimpse of Nature I would like to remind everyone about Affinity (which should use Glimpse of Nature and is sure to gain popularity with the printing of Mox Opal). Here is a slightly unusual build to consider:
Personally I prefer using Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault but it's certainly worth considering different builds.
Another possible new build of Affinity might incorporate Grim Monolith Voltaic Key Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors. I'm not at all sure what you would do with this shell but I suspect it would be somewhat similar to Vintage MUD decks with Mono-Brown beatdown in the form of Lodestone Golem Arcbound Ravager and Metalworker.
It is interesting to note that Trinisphere is legal as a four-of so maybe there is something in that direction.
Let's shift our focus towards the recently unbanned...
If Grim Monolith and Dream Halls got conversations started Time Spiral already has a spotlight. One of the poster boys of the most broken era of Magic since the advent of the modern expansion set Time Spiral comes straight from Mind's Desire and Yawgmoth's Bargain school of card design where you play a six-drop and you win the game (or so the theory goes).
Time Spiral is particularly interesting though in that it has additional restrictions linked to your land making it much more of a turn 3 to 5 card rather than turn 1 or 2 (like Ad Nauseam Dream Halls Show and Tell Hypergenesis). This ensures that if Time Spiral makes it big it actually promotes a slightly healthier format than many other possible combo decks being good.
Legacy is an ultra-powerful format and it's great that decks like Belcher and Ad Nauseam put the fear of death into players before they even take a turn. Still it's nice to encourage some combo decks that give a little more time to interact.
Working in Time Spiral's favor however is first and foremost its ability to serve as both your card draw engine and your mana engine. Drawing seven cards is great — but as we can see from Time Reversal Diminishing Returns and so on it's hardly the end of the world. However the ability to untap up to six lands is the perfect complement to the seven new cards you just drew as you should now have all the mana you need to keep going. The dream with Time Spiral is generally to find a way to make your lands worth six mana or more so that you actually get ahead as you Spiral. Enough library manipulation to find more Time Spirals (and other untap mechanisms) and you should quickly net cards and mana like a turbo-charged Pyromancer Ascension deck as it casts Manamorphose after Manamorphose.
The first Time Spiral deck we'll look at today is a Spring Tide variant. To build from the ground up sometimes it's best to start by looking at what technology already exists to start getting an idea of the physics of the new format.
Legacy players are well known for being fond of their deck names selected for "ascetic purposes" though there is a sort of internal consistency that makes it work (with the biggest exception being some players' penchant for referring to White Weenie as "Death and Taxes" since there are three things you can count on...).
Spring Tide a is High Tide variant built to go off at sorcery speed. It has more powerful draw options but lacks the ability to employ Reset like Solidarity. Many non-Legacy readers will be familiar with the Solidarity style of High Tide using instant-speed spells to combo off during the opponent's upkeep and then killing with Brain Freeze… but Spring Tide is a far more appropriate home for Time Spiral thanks to its nature of being able to employ sorceries well.
This list is a very basic attempt to work Time Spiral into the deck. It's simple to add colors to a deck like this and very probably correct — but starting with the simplest application can be a useful place to start. The first thing I want to call attention to in this build is the move away from cards like Thoughts Unbound and Meditate in favor of more cheap library manipulation to set up your big turn. Both of those cards are quite strong and it may be worth it to put more back in… but my initial thought is that Time Spiral is such an incredibly powerful engine that you probably need a lot fewer cards that make the engine stronger when you get it going. This means we can spend more slots making sure that turns 1 and 2 put us where we need to combo off turn 3 or 4 at the latest. Our plan is still to Brain Freeze or Cunning Wish for a Brain Freeze of course.
This build is going to be particularly consistent with its massive supply of cheap potent library manipulation. Unfortunately so many spots are spent on manipulation that there is minimal interaction. The first interactive card we would look to add is some sort of bounce spell with Chain of Vapor and Capsize being the first to consider. Additionally Pact of Negation Counterspell and Daze are all excellent ways to try to force our spells through (though Daze is a bit of a non-bo with Time Spiral). There are also a variety of additional ways to "buff" the combo which we will cover below.
Already idea after idea seems to pop into mind. There are so many ways we could take this! I say we experiment with what other colors might offer...
The first new element of this list is the addition of Explore. Explore has received a great deal of love in Standard Extended and Block Constructed formats. Its synergy with Time Spiral is so great that I have to imagine that it will start seeing regular play in Legacy.
The ability to put an extra land onto the battlefield is in many ways a functional Time Walk. It's far from impossible to go off with three land but going off with four land is far easier and more consistent — and it also requires fewer "bad" cards that can be dead in your hand.
Cards like Exploration don't work that well in this deck as you often run out of lands in your hand to play plus there aren't enough turns of using it to really pay enough to be worth the card. But Explore is amazing while comboing as you not only see another card you often net mana putting a land onto the battlefield that makes at least two mana but gets you very far ahead when you Time Spiral. This is not to say that Exploration couldn't be worth it as well… but I'd probably start with four Explores and see if you need more.
Cards like Impulse and Ideas Unbound are fine but are hardly the most exciting turn 2 plays in the format and you aren't always going to have a Merchant Scroll. This makes Explore the perfect spot on the curve. You even have a lot of great one-mana plays to ensure that your turn 2 is well spent when you Explore.
Cloud of Faeries and Snap feel like weak links in the list above — mere concessions to needing more untap mechanisms to speed the deck up. Here we use Candelabra of Tawnos and Repeal instead. Candelabra of Tawnos is another card that hasn't been fully utilized since it was unbanned but seems tailor-made for this strategy. It becomes much better when you have four land compared to three giving you even more of a pay-off for using Explore. Repeal is far more versatile than Snap letting you not only buy yourself some much needed time against fast strategies it also gives you solutions to cards like Counterbalance and Ethersworn Canonist. Repeal also combines exceptionally with Candelabra of Tawnos letting you cycle your Repeals for massive mana gains mid-combo.
Candelabra has some interesting effects on other parts of the deck. For instance it makes a fine one-drop decreasing the need for one-mana cantrips to make sure your first turn is utilized. Ponder gets the nod over Preordain on account of tons of shufflers as well as a desire to have as many looks for High Tide and Time Spiral as possible.
Additionally Candelabra gives you an actual arbitrary loop with Capsize. All you have to do is get your lands to produce eight mana more than they normally would and you're off to the races. This is easier than it sounds as two High Tides with four lands in play is all it takes most of the time. Capsize also gives you additional protection against troublesome permanents — and even if you're somehow stuck with no card drawing spells you can still Capsize with buyback your opponent's entire board.
While we certainly don't need green in order to play white I kind of think that Explore will be so good in Time Spiral decks that I want to start every list with it already built in. (Unless of course we are specifically trying fight non-basic land hate or we want to rock some sort of Back to Basics action which the first list could easily use.)
Splashes are super-easy given our fetches and cantrips and Abeyance offers an excellent synergy with Time Spiral. One of the biggest obstacles that a Time Spiral deck has to overcome is that when you start Spiraling you're going to be refilling your opponent's hand. A fist full of burn would be annoying enough but enough permission and our day will be ruined. Abeyance lets us sculpt a game where we can lock out the opponent before we combo. The cantrip half of it keeps it from being a dead card against the field though we probably don't want to jump into playing a ton maindeck as it does slow us down.
In matchups where we want this sort of action Cunning Wish gives us access to more — including Autumn's Veil (which is not only a one-mana counter it also makes all your spells uncounterable for the rest of the turn).
I have included a sideboard here more as a convenient way to list some suggestions than anything. I'm certainly not advocating this seventy-five for a tournament but it does seem a promising project to work on.
Mystic Remora also probably deserves a little explanation. This is an oft-forgotten piece of technology that seems to get reinvented in Vintage about every four years. It also happens to be quite good against the popular B/g/w Junk decks that would normally be able to use a massive supply of disruption to destroy a deck like this. This is hardly the only possible home for Mystic Remora but the point is that this is a card to keep in mind.
Continuing our review of possible splash colors we come to red:
Red gives us access to Burning Wish — which is a very different animal than Cunning Wish. First and foremost having more access to Time Spiral has obvious potential. Additionally as a victory condition it is superior. Braingeyser and Stroke of Genius both kill once you have boundless mana. Empty the Warrens is a much better back up kill than Brain Freeze. We don't have nearly as many good options to Wish for… But the ones we do have are generally very high-impact. Fire / Ice is also an interesting tool in that it adds a valuable dimension to your Merchant Scrolls especially when it comes to dealing with cards like Ethersworn Canonist.
I will not list a U/B build as the primary black element Lim-Dul's Vault doesn't appeal to me as much as the other options on its own. It is still worth mentioning however as you may want black sideboard cards enough to warrant black mana. Once you're at this point Lim-Dul's Vault is an easy add at the very least as a one-of to Merchant Scroll for. Having access to Lim-Dul's Vault means you can effectively Merchant Scroll for a Time Spiral assuming you have a cantrip in your hand.
Normally so many great splash options would have us considering cards like City of Brass — but the very nature of High Tide has us pretty locked into a fetch-land blue-dual mana-base. Still depending on how much Wasteland type action there is in the format we may be able to get even greedier and add a fourth or possibly even fifth color. When we combo off we are ideally going to have fours land in play anyway so it's not out of the question to want each one to be a different dual. I would guess that three colors is probably the sweet spot but it's worth considering more. Still five seems kind of a waste. All four splashes try to fill the void at the two-spot so you quickly run out of room on the curve if you try to rock them all.
One final option I want to present in the High Tide department is that of Thawing Glaciers. Thawing Glaciers in High Tide is among my favorite strategies of all time but I kind of imagine that it might be a hostile time to play such a strategy in Legacy. Without Frantic Search you're going to get most of your value from the card with Candelabra and Spiral. Unfortunately the way the curve plays out this often means you're looking at a consistent turn 5 instead of turn 3 or 4. This isn't a total deal-breaker however as it does have promise against control.
Here's an attempt:
Here we are trying to play a sort of control game for the first couple of turns then explode on turn 4 or 5. Given the Glacier slow plan of Thawing Explore seems a strong option to help recoup the lost time.
It's tempting to add basic Forest — but that's probably better in the sideboard to avoid slowing yourself down when it's time to High Tide. In fact maybe this is the reason you play Exploration after all.
It is hard to fit in more than two colors as you want plenty of basics to even bother Thawing. I'm not loving this build but maybe some radical new element could bring it together.
One idea I want to try is Lotus Cobra. Legacy's a format where Lotus Cobra has good chances of living and with plenty of Fetches it is very reasonable to think that he will be worth at least two mana on turn 2. Explore with a Fetchland is a free roll and Thawing Glaciers obviously costs less.
Lotus Cobra is so interesting in fact maybe the plan is to set aside the Glaciers for the time being and just use Lotus Cobra as an accelerant. Casting a High Tide off of your Cobra mana is efficient and so maybe he is the justification you need to work some Explorations into the deck.
As you can see there is no shortage of places to investigate when it comes to High Tide. Still this isn't the only way to play Time Spiral (even if it is the most probable). The key to Time Spiral is getting your lands to produce more than six mana by turn 3 or 4. The most notable alternative is probably Gaea's Cradle which opens up a lot of possibilities especially with Candelabra of Tawnos. Another possibility is cards like Utopia Sprawl and Wild Growth. The most common home for these is an Enchantress deck — which conveniently also features Serra's Sanctum another fine Time Spiral choice. Lotus Vale is another interesting (if somewhat unwieldy) option to abuse all these untap mechanic cards.
Another land I keep thinking about untapping is Riptide Laboratory. Obviously Time Spiral to untap a Laboratory is pretty much overkill — but there are some interesting overlap places such as Cloud of Faeries which is a wizard that could actually loop you infinite if you also had a Gaea's Cradle (worth five or more) and a Lotus Vale. Alternatively a Serra's Sanctum with a Fertile Ground is probably going to be enough with a Riptide Laboratory and a Cloud of Faeries. Trinket Mage is another interesting option as he can fetch Candelabras each time letting you untap DI mana and your Lab letting you keep going (assuming you have your lands sufficiently "buffed").
Okay. So there are a lot of sweet ways to play Time Spiral. Does this mean that it is going to dominate the format?
Well I definitely have Time Spiral as being closer to the Entomb-end of the spectrum as opposed to the Dream Halls-end. It's probably not going to totally dominate but altogether too many people are writing off because of its inherent weaknesses. These weaknesses include:
1) It's very vulnerable to CounterBalance a strategy that is sure to make a big come-back.
2) It's potentially soft to aggro control decks that combine a fast clock and cheap countermagic such as Merfolk and Madness.
3) It might have trouble with a discard overload such as found in some B/g/w/ Junk decks.
4) It has trouble with Goblins that overload on Red Elemental Blasts.
5) It is perhaps too slow against the fast combo or aggro decks.
You might wonder how it could possibly be good with weaknesses that cover everyone. The key? If Time Spiral can be made to work it might just brute force most (or all!) of these strategies. When High Tide was at its most dominant back in the day it used a lot of permission making it the best control deck. I suspect that we are going to see new Time Spiral decks emerge that adopt the role of Control Deck until winning at their leisure (perhaps around turn 3 or 4?).
There is no shortage of ideas to try with Time Spiral in Legacy and once again we are reminded of what Legacy is such a sweet format to build decks for. With twenty-nine StarCityGames.com Opens an expanding European scene two Legacy Grand Prixes and a possible day of the World Championships this upcoming year there will be an unprecedented amount of high level Legacy play. The third day of Worlds in San Francisco hasn't been announced yet but with an Extended Grand Prix the week before (also in California) there is an excellent chance that Legacy is finally making its return to the World Championships individual portion (I believe 2007 was the last year).
There are few pleasures like a fresh opportunity to brew and 2011 Legacy does not disappoint.
See you next year!