This past weekend I attended my first StarCityGames.com Open Series of the year in Columbus.
On Saturday I opted to play Delver as did almost everyone else I knew. I ended up doing poorly losing to Wolf Run a mirror match and a sweet RUG Delver list similar to the one in Brad vs. Gerry yesterday.
The short version here is that despite all this it still felt like I was playing the best deck. It just isn't nearly as unbeatable as the past three best decks from years past. With Faeries Jund and Caw-Blade at their peaks I felt like I could never lose matches to anything but a specific sequence of events. With Delver I can easily see myself losing to sweeper heavy Wolf Run aggressive Zombies draws or just someone who showed up with all the removal and Curse of Death's Hold. I'm not saying those matchups aren't necessarily favorable but it just felt significantly easier to lose to my opponents playing this deck as opposed to past format kings.
That said I don't think I would have changed my deck choice. There's just something about playing a ten round event that makes me want to have Ponder in my deck to minimize variance. If I was to choose something else I would likely play B/R Zombies with Blood Artist and Falkenrath Aristocrat for the old Disciple-Ravager style end game. I'm not sure I buy into Killing Wave just yet but that might also be included.
More interesting than Standard is how much Legacy has shifted in the past three weeks. Combo has basically eliminated the fairest of the fair decks from the format leaving only Delver lists standing in the way. The scales will likely tip the other way soon but for now here is where things stand.
The biggest shift is that combo now beats RUG Delver or at the least holds even with it.
Preface: This section may have some shades of personal bias. The general matchup numbers are correct in my experience but your mileage may vary.
RUG Delver lists plays upwards of fifteen disruption spells. Despite this I would currently be willing to take the combo side against RUG Delver with any of the current big combo decks except the fringe player Hive Mind and perennial all-in favorite Belcher.
What happened? Where did things go wrong that tempo is now even or a slight dog against combo again?
The first big thing was that everyone stopped losing to Spell Snare. As of right now that card is borderline unplayable against combo. The Show and Tell decks have zero actual targets for the spell unless you count Daze. Dredge is Dredge and just won't play Breakthrough with X=1. It hits some important cards against Elves but you can just Green Sun's Zenith for a two-drop if necessary and it still doesn't stop any of the core mana engine. Storm is leaning towards Orim's Chant effects that push right through Snare and early kills that catch RUG without mana open. Decks like Reanimator trying to force Exhumes and Animate Deads through are a thing of the past.
Combo decks have also started shifting towards heavier disruption suites and more mana. Not to hate too hard on Reanimator again but no one is playing seventeen lands with four Underground Seas any more. All the Show and Tell decks have nineteen or twenty lands with eight to ten disruption on top of the Duress effect of Show and Tell. Elves is all mana and does the usual Elves thing of "My cards can attack like yours too". Dredge is Dredge and plays Lion's Eye Diamond to pay for Dazes and Spell Pieces. High Tide is perfectly set up to just sit back and hit every land drop before casting a Tide and paying for every soft counter. The exception on the increased mana count is Storm but that deck always had a million mana regardless and is aiming to kill before Spell Pierce.
This is not to say RUG can't beat combo. It's very easy to play a Delver of Secrets on turn 1 and flip it on turn 2 with a Force of Will and Spell Pierce in hand. I'm just saying we are back to the days of 2010 where Tempo didn't have enough real disruption to reliably beat combo.
This is also not to say things can't change. RUG players the ball is in your court. My personal favorite answer is to up the clock slightly with Goblin Guide and play U/R Delver. That deck is blazing fast and often puts combo into an awkward spot. It's hard to use Show and Tell as a Duress if you are going to die on turn 4 and Spell Pierce gets much better when you don't give them the time or life total to drop an extra Ancient Tomb.
You can also just have a sick read and board right from week to week. I don't play nearly enough with fair decks to pretend to know how this works in the format but I'm sure you can overlap sideboard slots enough to cover the two degenerate decks you feel you need to attack today given almost any combination. For example Counterbalance covers Elves Storm Hypergenesis and the mirror or Blue Elemental Blast covers Belcher TES (The Epic Storm) and Sneak Attack.
The other option is shifting your disruption to discard spells in black. I have no idea where to go from there but these spells have traditionally been good against combo when paired with countermagic to protect from top decks. Black also gives you access to Virtue's Ruin for the Maverick matchup which seems absolutely insane to me.
Delver of Secrets may still have a few surprises in store but for now combo is ahead in the arms race.
Of the combo decks that have popped up Sneak and Show has definitely gotten the most publicity after its back to back finals appearances. Despite this and various doomsayers going on about how Griselbrand is beyond unfair I don't think the deck is as good as advertised.
I will admit I never really gave Sneak and Show its fair due once the other Show and Tell decks started to exist. The combo of Sneak Attack and Emrakul is analogous to Dream Halls-Conflux or Hive Mind-Pact as an auto-win. The deck still has the same base of four lethal enchantment four otherwise blank kill spell that makes the other Show and Tell decks so powerful and I never truly gave it credit for this.
Prior to Avacyn Restored the other two Show and Tell decks had an advantage via access to more reliable auto-wins. Dream Halls can pitch cast Intuition for Conflux at the cost of one more card Hive Mind has twelve Pacts and Sneak and Show had just four Emrakuls. Sneaking a Progenitus was not good and the other potential targets were all cold to a Swords to Plowshares. Sneak and Show had an extra four cards to Show and Tell down that were kind of good but it turns out that most of the time just killing them is significantly better than making a 10/10 and trying to race.
With Griselbrand the deck now has eight post-enchantment lethal cards the same number as Dream Halls. You also still have eight cards to two-card combo with Show and Tell which is at least double the number the other two lists have.
Despite this major change I don't think the deck is as good as advertised.
The additional color strains the mana much more than you could ever expect. Sneak Attack costing double red makes it very difficult to both curve out on cantrips and Sneak in a creature without a Volcanic Island in play. This then makes you vulnerable to Wasteland and from there everything starts to crumble. Unlike Storm you can't reliably kill them from a stunted mana base. You have a reasonable amount of lands but stumbling due to Wasteland is not something the Show and Tell decks can afford. Sneak is naturally slow enough that some of the fair decks can actually just race you and one free turn from a Wasteland puts even more of them in range.
The fact that twelve of your combo pieces don't pitch to Force of Will is another issue. While multiple Sneak Attacks isn't as bad as you can just cast the extra copies into counters it is very easy to have a hand clog up with fatties. You really only need one monster to end the game not counting any Emrakuls your Griselbrand may draw you and any extra copies do absolutely nothing. As bad as Progenitus was with Sneak Attack it let you get utility out of otherwise dead cards in your hand by pitching them to Force of Will. Griselbrand means you are now only pitching real cards to Force of Will which greatly decreases the power level of the best disruption spell in your deck.
To put down some numbers for comparison Dream Halls has two cards that don't pitch to Force and eight of its ten dead cards plus any extra copies of Dream Halls. I'm not saying Dream Halls is necessarily better but I'm just pointing out how much better Force of Will can be in a Show and Tell deck.
Finally it is surprisingly still easy to lose after resolving Show and Tell. Emrakul still loses heads up against combo the same way it always has and from playing the Storm-Sneak matchup I know that drawing fourteen cards off Griselbrand doesn't assure you two Force of Wills to beat a Silence. On the flip side the fair decks can easily put you into scenarios where Griselbrand can't activate and it just dies before you do. Emrakul just gets crushed through by an army of guys from time to time. Making a turn 1 monster is going to beat almost anything but past a certain point your deck has diminishing returns. This is also true on the Sneak Attack side of things as once the game progresses to a certain point your opponent will likely have more than six permanents to sacrifice.
As a note the fair decks I am referring to above are specifically Maverick and U/R Delver. I won't try to argue that Sneak and Show is better than Hive Mind against RUG Delver and other Daze decks. It also has specific edges over Dream Halls. Sneak is better against hate bears like Gaddock Teeg and Aven Mindcensor the entire deck Spiral Tide and Red Elemental Blasts due to Sneak Attack being red.
My argument is which Show and Tell deck you choose to pilot should be a well thought out decision based at least some part on what hate cards people like this week. Sneak has a lot of raw power but is also the least reliable. Dream Halls is the most consistent but also the most vulnerable to permanent-based hate and can lose to random things like High Tide going off using your enchantment. Hive Mind has the best protection due to Pact of Negation but is the most awkward to assemble due to six being so much more expensive than five (one of these is three basic Islands plus a City of Traitors you played that turn the other involves a fifth turn or extending into Wasteland).
If you want a more precise guide as to which deck beats what here it goes: Hive Mind is the best against Maverick Dream Halls matches up best against blue decks and Sneak is best against non-Show combo due to Griselbrand.
Hypergenesis is the fourth deck in this category and I have no idea where it fits. Keep an eye on that one.
Of course it might also just be time to Belcher people.
Multiple Belcher decks were playing for Top 8 at the SCG Legacy Open in Columbus. This was not a fluke. Garret Young has actually lost win and ins at Grand Prix Indianapolis and at least two SCG Legacy Opens this year.
Sure RUG is probably a bad matchup. Besides that you are at least 60% to win any given game.
Where did I pull that number? From old Vintage stats. See your opponent is only going to have a Force of Will with a blue card in around 40% of opening sevens.
Sure they can aggressively mulligan to it. You can also just cast Empty the Warrens if they do so. Odds are their Force of Will containing mulligan isn't actually going to apply the pressure necessary to beat Goblins. You also have a sideboard with actual cards. Xantid Swarm is so good against blue mages.
In a world where other combo has to consider one mana counters every game and things like Thalia you only care about Spell Pierce half your games and should never even see a Thalia doing anything besides blocking a Goblin token. I was trying to leverage some of this advantage by playing The Epic Storm this past weekend and it definitely was successful in my matches against Pox and Maverick but it might just be reasonable to just go all in.
Belcher is also stacked against Show and Tell. No matter what permanent they are going to put into play it doesn't beat activating the Goblin Charbelcher you dropped. I know Garret did this in four of his matches on Sunday and his opponents were not amused. Hypergenesis is even more comical as you don't even have to extend the Lion's Eye Diamond onto the board beforehand.
That all said traditional Belcher might not be the right way to go. Specifically I don't really like Empty the Warrens in a combo heavy metagame. It's your best plan against RUG Delver but you may be able to do better.
I'm going to have to do more digging for the list but I saw a black based Belcher list a few months ago I am very interested in. The deck designed by Doomsday master eimdln is an evolved version of Tallman SI from a few years ago featuring the Shield Sphere – Culling the Weak package. You get to play actual interaction in the form of Cabal Therapy to beat Force of Will and the "backup win conditions" are Infernal Tutor and Ad Nauseam to find a Charbelcher. No messing around with combat phases just 100% dealing twenty to their face. Ad Nauseam looks terrible on paper as the deck has about eight cards that cost four or more but at the same time everything else you flip is a Ritual or zero-drop and you should almost always be going off from twenty.
That said expect the Invitational in Indianapolis in a couple weeks to be more saturated with fair decks. People just love their Force of Wills at these events.
All in all I personally like where Legacy is headed but again I may be biased. I'm very interested to see what the next breed of fair decks is that attacks the Sneak and Show decks. Humility might rise again in an Enlightened Tutor – Counterbalance shell or traditional BUG with all the Hymn to Tourachs and other disruption might see play.
Whatever angle you choose there's room for development and that's the fun part. Right?