Wizards of the Coast Hits Home Run with Planechase and Commander; Eternal Players Cheer and Applaud in Approval
First of all let me preface this article (and my discussion of my new Legacy deck Shardless BUG) by saying that I absolutely love what Wizards of the Coast has done with their decision to print new interesting and Eternal specific/legal staples in their Commander and Planechase preconstructed decks. I give the powers that be an absolute grade of A++ for making this very smart decision.
In Eternal I have already given a lot of play to the following cards both in Legacy and Vintage:
"Too Good for Standard but juuust right for Vintage and Legacy…"
I was at the R.I.W. last week looking through a stack of cards that they had acquired and one card (that I had never even seen before) stuck out at me from the pile. It was gold so it was hard to miss and it essentially screamed out to me: "PLAY ME! PLAY ME!"
"In the beginning there was a sad value robot—now there is an upside-down 'value' robot."
I did a double take. "Wait what?" I thought to myself. "How did I not know about this card…?" So I bought up the two that the store already had and then bought the Planechase 2012 Chaos Reigns precon that includes two copies of this sweet U/G artifact creature to complete my playset. (For the record I don't usually give 'financial advice' where I speculate on the values of Magic Cards but picking up this particular single now while the price is relatively low seems like a very smart move. Shardless Agent is easily the kind of card that I could see double or tripling in value over the next year.)
After my transaction was complete I went home and set about putting my new toys/tools to good use. In Michigan there is a weekly Legacy tournament that routinely fetches 30-40 players every Wednesday night and I was determined to show up with a sweet Shardless Agent deck and take it for a little stroll down the street to 'value town.'
The Brew: "Shardless BUG Control"
Here is what I ended up brewing up for the tournament after making a few slight tweaks based on the information I got playing the event. In my opinion the deck is a powerful and versatile beyond simply being 'cute' or 'gimmicky' and I would certainly play this 75 again were I to compete in a Legacy tournament so keep that in mind.
Here's a brief introduction to what exactly my deck IS and what exactly my deck DOES:
First and foremost Shardless BUG is constructed to use its namesake card Shardless Agent to the point of maximum efficiency. While Shardless Agent is extremely powerful it is definitely a lynchpin card that requires one build their deck completely around it. The cost of such a deck is that like with predecessor Jund and Bloodbraid Elf decks of the past one has to maximize the efficiency of the cascades. Maximization of cascading tends to have a higher cost in blue decks than say Jund because on of the things blue does well is play with permission (which as it turns out is a completely dead card to cascade into since it will have no targets on the stack besides one's own Shardless Agent!).
My thought process for constructing this deck was that my vision was every single time I cast the card Shardless Agent I would not only get a two for one by virtue of the cascade mechanic but also that I would get value in the sense that no matter the cascade target I would be basically assembling a 3CC 2/2 body with a comes into play ability that would be basically overpowered at that mana cost.
The next big step was when I quickly stumbled across:
The same way that one can cascade into Hypergenesis or Living End one can also cascade into Ancestral Vision. Keep in mind that Ancestral Vision is actually a very good and playable card in Legacy when one plays it the 'fair' way simply suspending it and waiting to get an Ancestral Recall. However when you have Ancestral Vision the fair way and also a combo way to simply cast it 'unfairly' it actually just becomes straight up bonkers in the deck.
Shardless Agent into Ancestral Vision is basically the most powerful thing that this deck is capable of doing and the deck has no shortage of ways to set it up via Brainstorm Sensei's Diving Top and Jace the Mind Sculptor.
If a similar card existed it would be 1UG for a 2/2 artifact creature whose text box says: DRAW 3 CARDS. Such a card would be absolutely off the charts powerful to the point that I would play four copies of the card in Vintage where it would undoubtedly need to be snap restricted. Now think about this: when you Cascade into Ancestral Vision with the BUG deck it is actually BETTER than that card since your opponent can only counter half of the card with a counterspell! Ancestral Vision is also pretty sick because it powers up Tarmogoyf to the next level as well…
The rest of my cascades are similarly powerful though not on the level of getting an Ancestral Recall. Cascade into a Hymn to Tourach Tarmogoyf Sensei's Diving Top or Snapcaster Mage are also plays that are extracting maximum value from the Agent which is why they are in the deck.
Shardless BUG is basically a deck of all two for ones where every single time one resolves a spell they are essentially going to be up a card of advantage. Of the cards in the deck Hymn to Tourach Snapcaster Mage Shardless Agent Ancestral Vision Pernicious Deed and Jace the Mind Sculptor all directly create card advantage. The other cards in the deck Sensei's Divining Top Vendilion Clique Ghastly Demise and Brainstorm don't create card advantage directly but are extremely efficient at what they do and either replace themselves or trade one for one with an opponent's card (and then enable Snapcaster to become a two for one).
Force of Will isn't a two for one but because we are limited on being able to actually play with permission I think it is a snap include in this deck. The deck already generates so much card advantage that pitching a card isn't really a problem and it is obviously sweet that because it has a converted mana cost of five there is no risk of cascading into it even though it usually gets cast for free!
"Utility to the max."
Pernicious Deed is the perfect card for a deck like this because it is a versatile answer to everything that one's opponent can slip onto the board early before your Hymns and Force of Wills can begin to shut them down. Against decks like Maverick and Delver Pernicious Deed is often a two or three for one that sweeps away basically everything they have tried to use their tempo to assemble. Sweeping away a Delver and a Nimble Mongoose or Hierarch Dryad Arbor and a three-drop is basically living the dream and clears the way for Shardless BUG's relentless assault of card advantage critters to pound the red zone.
One thing that frequently came up was that the most common number that I was Deeding for was X=2 so it would essentially Wrath of God my opponent's board but leave my Shardless Agent on the battlefield to attack uninhibited for two damage. I had one game where an Agent netted me an Ancestral Vision for +3 cards survived when I Deeded away my opponent's board for X=2 and then picked up an Umezawa's Jitte for the 'pick it up lock em out.' Not bad value for an upside-down robot!
Last but certainly not least is a card that has rekindled my enthusiasm for it since playing four copies of it in my Modern Bant Deck.
"so i herd u like tarmogoyfz…"
Over the past year or so it seems like people have started to forget how amazing Tarmogoyf is. It isn't like people don't think he's a good card or anything but he's been around for a while and people are maybe just distracted by Snapcaster Mage or something…
Tarmogoyf is still completely unsurpassed at what he does and what he can provide a deck. He is still freaky huge for two mana and can simply kill people very quickly from out of nowhere or hold off an army of smaller creatures. He's the absolute perfect creature for this blue deck and more often than not I was very pleased with cascading into him.
Another note: Shardless Agent is small and dies from time to time and when it does (by virtue of being an artifact creature MISE!) Tarmogoyf gets +2/+2 from that one card alone! The deck even has Pernicious Deed an enchantment (which has a way of finding itself in the bin…) and Jace the Mind Sculptor. Basically Tarmogoyf is better in this deck than pretty much any other deck because Shardless BUG has sufficient cards types all by itself to create a 7/8 MONSTER GOYF!
I had enough room in my deck to play with a utility land in abundance of four copies. I chose Wasteland because the card is literally nuts but I could also see a case being made for playing Mishra's Factory or a split between the two lands and I wouldn't fault somebody for doing that. First of all having Pernicious Deed + Mishra's Factory is a pretty big game.
Here is the logic I used in selecting Wasteland:
Versus U/W Stoneblade
Having the great privilege of 'getting to play against' U/W Stoneblade decks is one of the strongest incentives TO play Shardless BUG. I played a match against Stoneblade and a bunch of other games in between rounds against one of the better players at the Legacy event Brian Hockey and he basically described the match up from his side as "hopelessly unwinnable."
Shardless Agent is exactly the type of card that Stoneblade never wants to have to play against which goes right along with Hymn to Tourach Jace the Mind Sculptor and ESPECIALLY the card Ancestral Vision.
"Oh were you all in on that Batterskull… Awkward…"
After sideboard the BUG deck gets Krosan Grip for opposing Batterskulls which is basically the only card they have that even matters and access to a bunch of Thoughtseizes to make Stoneblade's life even more difficult.
I really like having access to Krosan Grip for a lot of reasons besides Batterskull. Being that Shardless BUG is pretty saturated with one- and two-drops for my Agents I imagine that Counterbalance could end up being a problem especially since I cannot play with the typical cast of Spell Pierce and Spell Snare to fight against it. In addition—and this has little to do with Stoneblade decks—there are still Humility / Thopter-Sword-Ensnaring Bridge decks that exist (that I respect) and Grip is probably the best possible card against these decks.
Stoneblade is basically a deck that is trying to two-for-one everybody with Snapcasters etc. and in this matchup they are clearly not capable of controlling or gaining card or board advantage in any realistic way that competes with Ancestral Vision Shardless Agent and BUG's Snapcasters (which have better targets in Hymn to Tourach).
I was able to pretty easily defeat Maverick and would contend that the matchup is very heavily slated toward Shardless BUG. First of all they don't have burn to finish you with which means that controlling the game without permission is fairly easy. You just kill their guys and they cannot deal damage to you.
Their best angle of attack is via Wastelands and Thalia to mana screw you. However getting to play with four Ancestral Vision makes it difficult for them to lock you out at least for long. Pernicious Deed from what I can tell is completely and utterly unbeatable against Maverick so finding and resolving this spell with mana to activate it against a possible Pridemage is going to be a key to winning.
Umezawa's Jitte is pretty huge against this deck after sideboard as is access to three more targeted removal spells to keep them off of your life total.
In general I want to play against creature decks as opposed to combo decks and my strategy is simply to two for one them on creatures back into the Ice Age.
Versus RUG Delver
Out of all the decks that play creatures RUG probably has the best matchup against Shardless BUG simply because they have burn spells to finish you off with. The more burn that they have the better their matchup is going to be.
"KA-BOOM! All Delvers and Mongooses get dead."
My one loss in the Swiss at the GYGO tournament was to RUG Delver but I will say that our games came right down to the wire and I respectively mulliganed to four and five in our games. I also made the mistake of not sideboarding in Nihil Spellbomb which would have been absolutely key in shrinking Nimble Mongoose (which blanked a lot of my cards). Drawing a Pernicious Deed and resolving it on turn 3 or 4 is probably unbeatable so keep that in mind. Since they are forced to hold their burn spells Hymn to Tourach is actually very good against them early on in the game when they tap out to play Ponders and early creatures.
"Sometimes you've got to fight fire with life gain."
Basically their very good draws are almost going to beat your mediocre ones but anything where they are not curving out and dealing a lot of damage isn't going to beat your mediocre to good draws. I also suspect that their good draws do not beat your good ones. If you are living long enough to be Ancestral Visioning you are going to out resource them significantly. This becomes extra important after sideboard when you have access to Umezawa's Jitte and Scavenging Ooze to gain life and control the board more efficiently against their particular brand of nonsense.
Versus Creature Decks: Summary
The best reason that I could give a person for why they should play this deck is that it literally pulverizes the popular creature decks that people play in Legacy. Any creature deck that is forced (because of metagame tensions) to spread itself out to attack combo and other creature decks is going to get absolutely smoked by Shardless BUG.
Versus Sneak and Show
I admittedly haven't gotten a chance to play or test against Sneak and Show but I would guesstimate it to be my worst matchup.
It is matchups like this where the Shardless Agent gambit comes back to haunt us a little bit as using permission is pretty much what I would want to be doing against them.
Yet I don't think the matchup is a throw away.
Keep in mind that we still have Force of Will Vendilion Clique and Hymn to Tourach in the maindeck which gives us some legitimate tools for combating them. After sideboard we get to bring in more hand disruption and Vendilion which while probably not consistent enough to be 'ahead' will allow us to compete for a shot to win.
"Clique is the best Legacy strategy against combo so I've loaded up."
It is also considerable that there is a better sideboard that I haven't taken the time or energy to procure for the deck.
I actually don't mind this matchup and tend to think I have a pretty good chance of winning a match against them. I have more hand disruption than most which is admittedly better than Spell Pierces against them. Having access to an endless stream of Hymns and Thoughtseizes + Vendilion Clique + an aggressive clock provides a lot of potential to win.
"Against combo decks Shardless BUG wants to make the opponent discard A LOT."
Pernicious Deed as opposed to other forms of creature removal which would traditionally be dead gives us even more game because if they are forced to throw their Lion's Eye Diamonds Lotus Petals etc. into play we can burn them and if they end up needing to Empty the Warrens (which is likely based on the way BUG can pressure their hand) we can simply Deed those Goblins away.
Versus Reanimator and Dredge
While game 1 is pretty difficult against these decks my sideboard has a lot of cards that really help out while fighting these matchups. I have five dedicated sideboard cards to help out with controlling the opposing graveyard. Of the two decks I probably have a better chance of winning the first game against Reanimator than I do against Dredge but good draws and powerful spells from my deck give me a lot of options.
"Graveyard hate to the rescue…"
Versus Combo: Summary
While Shardless BUG would clearly rather fight against blue-based creature decks than combo I still don't feel very far behind playing against combo decks. It is also possible that I have too many cards in my sideboard for aggro (being that my matchup is already so good) and that the board could be better tailored for beating specific popular meta combo decks.
After having a chance to play seven rounds of Legacy against a wide variety of different decks it is my conclusion that Shardless BUG is not only a 'real' deck (in the sense that I wouldn't be embarrassed to play with it at a large scale Legacy tournament) but also that it is a very powerful and savvy metagame choice depending upon the expected field.
One thing to keep in mind is that getting to play with Ancestral Vision is a great privilege in Legacy; the card is absolutely insane and often backbreaking for the opposition. There have already been a wide variety of competitive decks that played the card and those decks didn't have the even more powerful high end of being able to get it 'now and for free' with a Shardless Agent the way that Shardless BUG can.
In many matchups it is almost impossible to lose when you are able to Brainstorm a Vision to the top and then Shardless Agent into it. The card advantage is simply overwhelming and allows you to simply stop or destroy everything your opponent hopes to do for the rest of the game.
I hope that readers enjoy the article and if they are so inclined to play it the deck that I have written about in today's article. For those of you who were tuning in for Vintage I will be getting back to my typical discussion of Magic's oldest format next time. If you are looking for a sweet new deck to try out at the next SCG Legacy Open perhaps you might consider giving this one a try. It meets most of the criteria I look for when selecting a deck: no "I give up matchups"; powerful unbeatable nut draws (Agent ---> Visions); a lot of ways to force a lot of different types of strategic advantage; and last but not least it draws A LOT of cards…
My opponent: How many cards do you have in hand?
Me: Just eleven but I haven't played a land yet. How many do you have?
My opponent: Two (sigh).
Thanks for reading!