There have been Legacy decks based around High Tide almost since the format’s inception. Early lists took advantage of Reset, which is an efficient way to generate mana but limits the deck functionally to only instants. Last December, the DCI unbanned Time Spiral in Legacy, which gave the archetype a powerful spell; the modern High Tide decks that have resulted from this have proven to be quite strong.
The specific High Tide list that is the basis for this article won the SCG Legacy Open in Edison on March 6, 2011.
One of the best ways to analyze this deck is to understand how it plans to win the game. Its goal is to cast a lethal Blue Sun’s Zenith on its opponent. This is its primary win condition, and virtually every card in the deck helps to achieve this goal. High Tide allows the deck to generate mana when the deck casts spells that untap its lands. With this mana, the deck casts spells that allow it to draw additional cards and then it repeats this process of casting High Tide, untapping its lands, and casting draw spells until it has enough mana to cast a lethal Blue Sun’s Zenith.
There are many different cards in this deck, but most of them fall into a few general categories. One category is the group of cards that generate mana. This includes High Tide and all the untap effects. Another major category is draw that allows the deck to generate card advantage so that it can continue to cast spells. The deck also needs a way to make sure it can find specific cards from the first two categories. This may seem like an unnecessary category if the deck could simply play more untap effects and draw spells, but there are many problems with this approach.
The primary problem with this approach is that this deck plays enough cards that have no functional replacements, such as High Tide and Time Spiral. The other major problem with this approach is that this deck can sometimes draw too much of one category and not enough of the other. Without any search spells (cards that find other cards), the deck could easily draw too many untap effects or too few draw spells or vice versa. The search spells also serve as a way to find an adequate number of lands to allow the deck to play its spells and generate enough mana to win the game. It generally needs at least three lands and often would like to play at least four lands before casting High Tide.
The last three categories that the remaining cards fall into are tutors, protection spells, and lands. The tutors are specialized search spells that can find something specific inside or outside of the deck. The protection spells give the deck to ability to fight an opponent that may be able to disrupt the deck. Last but not least the lands are obviously necessary to cast spells and to generate mana via High Tide.
Here is the maindeck again, but arranged by category.
Many parts of this deck list overlap heavily with other High Tide lists because the inclusion of these cards is necessary and proper to the deck’s function. What follows is not a card-by-card explanation of why each card is in the deck, but a discussion of both the quantity and the quality of the cards that differ from many other lists.
There are ten one-mana search spells. This makes up a substantial portion of the deck and gives the deck a very high probability of being able to sculpt its hand in the first two turns of the game. This is extremely important for a combo deck aiming to assemble the proper mix of mana generation and card draw in time to win the game on the third or fourth turn. We also see a similar draw package in some modern Dark Ritual Storm decks, such as Ari Lax from recent SCG Opens. Other Time Spiral decklists are similar, although there is some debate as to whether Ponder or Preordain is more deserving of being in this deck.
Ponder is the better card in this deck simply because it digs deeper by looking at a fourth card. Looking at that fourth card can be the difference between winning and losing the game. It is possible for a Ponder to leave you with a blank or two alongside the card you want to draw, but this deck tries to minimize this by playing only what is absolutely necessary. It is also true that when this deck finds what it needs, the cards on top of its library are much less important. This is especially true with something like Time Spiral, as it shuffles the deck anyway; along with Merchant Scroll and six fetchlands, there are multiple ways to avoid drawing cards that are on the top of the library.
The next thing you might notice about the decklist is the presence of three Meditates. While it is the classic bulk draw of High Tide lists with Reset, Meditate has largely been eschewed in some Time Spiral lists since it can be possible to use the one-for-one search spells to chain Time Spirals. However, there are several key advantages to including the maximum number of Meditates (three in the maindeck, with one remaining in the sideboard to Cunning Wish for) in a Time Spiral deck.
The first advantage is redundancy, which comes up frequently against decks that can disrupt the High Tide deck by attacking its draw spells. These include decks with countermagic and discard. Beginning a High Tide turn with a Meditate against these decks is very common. Most such sequences culminate with the resolution of a Time Spiral at some point, but it is much easier to get to that point after resolving a Meditate than it is after resolving a Preordain, or whatever else might take the place of the Meditates in other decklists.
Another advantage of running so many Meditates is that this version of High Tide doesn’t have to cast as many Time Spirals while going off. To understand why this is such an important thing, realize that many decks in Legacy have some ways to interact with High Tide as it goes off, especially after sideboarding, and every Time Spiral that resolves will give them seven new cards with which to do so. There is also the inherent risk of fizzling or blanking after playing a Spiral whether your opponent interferes with you or not. For these reasons, it is almost always correct to make every effort to resolve as few Time Spirals as necessary to kill your opponent, and the ability to lean on Meditate as a secondary engine greatly increases the deck’s ability to do so. In fact this deck rarely has to even cast a second Time Spiral in a game; the first Spiral usually sets you up with enough cards and mana to simply Meditate through the deck and win.
One more benefit of running Meditate is how powerful the card is, all on its own. There are actually a lot of situations in which paying 2U and skipping a turn is more than a fair price to pay for four cards. This is especially true against slower blue decks, which are unlikely to present a quick clock early in the game, and decks heavy with black disruption, which will probably have to choose between casting Hymn to Tourach and applying pressure. In these cases, High Tide can truly use its life as a resource, refilling its hand with four fresh cards, soaking up whatever damage the opponent can inflict, and then untapping for the kill. Some of these matchups, especially those with a lot of discard effects, can be difficult for the deck, but Meditate helps improve all of them.
The remaining draw spell that deserves a mention is the Blue Sun’s Zenith, not so much for its presence (the card is the primary win condition in most Time Spiral decks, after all), but for the absence of any other cards that share its duty. There is no Brain Freeze in the maindeck (and, indeed, the one in the sideboard is only there for emergencies and for trying to get a look at your opponent’s deck). There also is no Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, which has been suggested by some, but is entirely unnecessary. The one Zenith in the maindeck and the one in the sideboard are more than adequate for the task of killing the opponent, and there are even several matchups in which the maindeck Zenith can be boarded out to streamline the deck.
The most interesting portion of this decklist may be the group of cards tasked with leveraging High Tide to create mana, the untap effects. Two of these cards, Candelabra of Tawnos and Mind Over Matter, are responsible for the personal name of this deck—Permanent Waves (a reference to the terrific 1980 Rush album). It is also a fact that these cards are permanents that has led to many High Tide players to shun them because they are concerned that allowing the deck to be disrupted by cards like Krosan Grip and Pithing Needle will weaken it too much.
Those players are certainly wise to think twice about opening their combo deck up to another axis of interaction from their opponents, but they are also incorrect in concluding that the benefits of Candelabra and Mind Over Matter do not outweigh their drawbacks.
After Turnabout, Candelabra of Tawnos is simply the best mana generator this deck has access to. The main alternative, Cloud of Faeries, is far less powerful, as it can only untap two lands. Both cards combine with a High Tide to generate the 4UU needed to cast a Time Spiral on turn three, but beyond that, they just don’t compare. With every additional land drop that this deck makes, Cloud of Faeries becomes weaker, untapping a smaller and smaller fraction of the lands needed to continue to cast spells reliably. Candelabra is vulnerable to Pithing Needle, but that line of play is very weak against a deck with so many other ways to generate mana and an incredible access to bounce spells.
Mind Over Matter’s role in the deck is largely misunderstood. There are only two copies in the deck because it is a card that is really only good once the combo turn has begun and a significant amount of card advantage has already been achieved. At such a point, it may seem like the deck has already won, but that is often not the case. The deck will need to continue to cast a succession of untap effects and draw spells, but the resolution of a Mind Over Matter means that no other untap effects are required, and the deck can continue to chain draw spells. When Mind Over Matter is drawn during the combo turn but before winning is a foregone conclusion, it is often the best untap effect.
Its synergy with Candelabra of Tawnos to generate an inordinate amount of mana allows the deck to more reliably cast a lethal Blue Sun’s Zenith. Mind Over Matter also allows the deck to turn every card that is drawn in a combo turn into a resource. Lands and Force of Will provide very little to the deck once it’s going off, but they can serve as additional mana sources by either untapping lands or Candelabras. It also has the ancillary benefit of truncating a long combo turn by multiple minutes in a tournament setting, by allowing the deck to simply pitch extraneous cards to generate enough mana to cast Blue Sun’s Zenith.
Tutors, Protection, and Land
The remaining categories have cards that are virtually the same as what other High Tide decks play. The only variance might be on the number of lands, but this deck wants to make its first three land drops and usually its fourth. Eighteen lands in practice has shown to be a fairly reasonable number for achieving this goal. Limiting the number of fetchlands helps to avoid excessive life loss against aggressive decks and to ameliorate as much as possible cards directed at fetchlands like Stifle.
The sideboard is another important element of distinction for this version of the deck. Normally it would not make sense to present a “base” sideboard, since most sideboards require a complete reevaluation for each event they are to be played in. For many decks, parts of the maindeck are like this as well. However, this deck is a little different. It has a tight maindeck with few flexible slots, and the sideboard is dominated by targets for Cunning Wish. The cards that are not there to be Wished for are generic enough to be warranted in all but the most lopsided metagames.
Repeal is perhaps the most questionable card in the sideboard, but it is very important for what it gives the deck. Primarily, it is there as an effective way to fight the Counterbalance soft-lock, and it shines in this application in a couple of ways. Repeal when targeting Counterbalance costs three mana, which is not a number that many Counterbalance decks have in abundance, so it is unlikely to be countered at least by Counterbalance.
This much may be obvious to those who are familiar with Counterbalance and how to combat it, but Repeal has another important aspect that makes it better than Wipe Away, the traditional Counterbalance buster for Legacy combo decks. Repeal replaces itself. This small line of text makes the card much better for this deck because it means you are free to board a full playset without them clogging up your hand when the opponent doesn’t have Counterbalance. It also means that Repeal on your own Candelabra gives you a draw spell and untap effect in just one card.
It is this last aspect of Repeal that also makes it a great card to board in for the unknown, when you are unsure of what your opponent may have in store for you in post-board games. Do they have Ethersworn Canonist? Trinisphere? Pyrostatic Pillar? With Legacy’s vast card pool, there is almost always the potential for a nasty permanent of some kind to show up, but it is also reasonably likely your opponent will either not have it in his or her sideboard that day or will not draw it in a timely fashion. In those cases, having two or three Repeals in your own deck is much better than any of the alternatives.
Repeal also has its drawbacks, one of which is that it does not answer Gaddock Teeg. If the grumpy Kithkin is expected to be a factor at the next event you go to, consider squeezing a copy of Snap into the sideboard since Merchant Scroll for Snap is essentially free after resolving High Tide.
The only other card with multiple copies in the sideboard, Pact of Negation, is an important tool in High Tide’s arsenal. Very few decks can really abuse Pact as well as this one with the combination of powerful tutoring and a main-phase one-turn kill.
The normal procedure is to board in two copies of Pact so that Cunning Wish can still fetch one. Against decks with countermagic, High Tide usually has more than enough time to assemble the simple combination of High Tide and Time Spiral, and so it can spend whatever remaining time the opponent gives it hoarding Forces and Pacts. This plan is extremely effective at fighting slow blue decks without Counterbalance and only slightly worse against those with.
Pact is also an effective sideboard card against faster blue decks, such as Merfolk, and it’s a good Cunning Wish target if you suspect a non-blue opponent may have a Mindbreak Trap or Pyroblast up his or her sleeve.
The remaining spells in the sideboard are singletons, and most of their functions are obvious. The Intuition is there primarily so that Cunning Wish can set up Time Spiral. As expensive as this sequence is, it is not uncommon for it to happen in one turn while going off. At twelve mana, to both draw seven cards and untap six lands fills a void between Wishing for Meditate, which costs seven mana but requires mana to be left over for an untap effect, and Wishing for Blue Sun’s Zenith, which also requires mana to be left over, and thus is only more efficient when more than sixteen mana is available (that’s enough to Wish for Zenith, Zenith for six cards, and Turnabout, which is arguably better than casting Time Spiral if the opponent has relevant cards to draw).
The mixture of other bounce spells is designed to give the High Tide player options for tackling different situations often in conjunction with the Repeals. The Wipe Away is a Wish target for answering Counterbalance; the Echoing Truth is an answer to multiples and tokens; and the Rebuild is obviously for fighting artifact-based prison decks and buying time against Affinity.
This article was co-written by Alix Hatfield and Anwar Ahmad