Have you had the pleasure of watching your Dark Confidant get hit with a Mogg Fanatic and then getting your Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author] get destroyed by a Wasteland? Only to watch your opponent run you over with a horde of goblins that you have no way of stopping? If so, then you’ve probably been beaten by Vial Goblins in Legacy.
You may have also experienced facing down a Nimble Mongoose and Werebear (both with Threshold), only to have your big threat Dazed because it costs four mana or more. You may have tried to remove threats like Werebear and Mongoose, only to find that most your removal doesn’t work because it targets, or that you have lots of trouble taking down a 4/4 creature. Just when you kill that Werebear, you find that a Mystic Enforcer or Fledgling Dragon has come to replace him. If this situation sounds familiar, you’ve suffered at the hands of Threshold (Gro).
Have you considered what might be the problem with your deck, if it has troubles with these two solid creations? If you are playing a deck in Legacy that plans to win with creatures, you need to ask yourself one important question – are you playing a threat?
In theory, any 1/1 creature is a threat in the sense that it can kill your opponent… but in practice this isn’t true, because your opponent will either play creatures, or play creature removal, or just win before it matters. One of the best ways to figure out whether you are playing a threat is to see which creatures are threats in the format. This will give you insight, not only into what type of decks you are likely to play against, but also which creatures are considered some of the best threats. Let’s examine both Vial Goblins and Threshold to help us draw some conclusions.
Goblins is such a powerful deck in Legacy for many reasons, but one of the reasons is its ability to destroy most other creature-based decks in the format. One of the biggest reasons for this is that Goblins, as an aggressive deck, runs maindeck creature removal. This removal comes in the form of Mogg Fanatic, Gempalm Incinerator, and Goblin Sharpshooter. Let’s look at each of these in depth.
Mogg Fanatic can be dropped on turn 1 and can kill anything with a toughness of one at instant speed, and trade with a creature with toughness of two that it blocks or is blocked by. Any creature with a toughness of one in Legacy will never be a reliable threat, simply because Mogg Fanatic kills it. Creatures with toughness of two are also dubious threats, because a Fanatic can still nullify the threat by blocking it. There are notable exceptions to these guidelines, but in general they are true.
Gempalm Incinerator presents a different type of removal. Gempalm can take down almost any creature played in Legacy with just two or three goblins in play, which isn’t difficult for the Goblin deck to produce in the first few turns. Gempalm’s ability is also an activated ability, which means that it can’t be disrupted by countermagic. Since its cycles when it hits a creature, this card almost always generates card advantage.
Finally, an active Goblin Sharpshooter can clear any board full of creatures with a toughness of one. Goblin Sharpshooter in combination with Mogg Fanatic and Gempalm Incinerator can often clear an opponent’s opposing army.
The final thing to remember about Goblins creature removal is that none of it is ever dead against decks that are not playing creatures. All of them can be played as threat, and even cycled in the case of Gempalm Incinerator.
Threshold decks present different problems for decks trying to win with creatures. These decks utilize threshold creatures especially Nimble Mongoose and Werebear to present threats that can win the game all on their own. These creatures once they gain threshold represent one of the best mana cost to power-ratios in all of Legacy. The obvious drawback is that Threshold decks do not gain threshold until usually the third or fourth turn of the game, but this proves to be an acceptable drawback given the amount of cantrips and counterspells the deck can play in the early game. Let’s examine each in more detail.
Having a 3/3 creature for one mana is very hard to beat in Legacy. Mongoose’s untargetability makes the critter especially hard to destroy, given that you need some type of non-targeted removal or mass removal. Mongoose is one of the most important reasons that the Threshold-Goblins matchup is difficult for the Goblins‘ player. All of Vial Goblins‘ removal is targeted. The only way for Goblins to handle a Mongoose is in creature combat. Mongoose, at 3/3, is bigger than every goblin in Vial Goblins and presents a huge threat to the Goblin player.
Again, a 4/4 creature for two mana is very hard to come by in Legacy, let alone any format of Magic. Werebear is a huge threat against any deck that is planning to win with creatures, because most creatures will likely be either smaller than it or cost much more, meaning that they don’t come online until much later in the game. Werebear also has the ability to tap for one Green mana. This ability can’t be taken lightly, given that it can be used for many purposes (like hard-casting Force of Will), and it supports Threshold‘s low land count. By way of comparison, Werebear is twice as big as any Goblin that sees play in Legacy.
Finally, many Threshold decks play a flying creature that acts as finisher, just in case creature combat gets stalled on the ground. Most builds either play Mystic Enforcer (the White splash) or Fledgling Dragon (the Red splash). The function is the same – play a mid-late game finisher that flies and ends the game in a few turns. Of course, either of these are huge threats that have to be handled quickly or the game can end in the blink of an eye.
Creatures that are unable to handle the large monsters in Threshold are unlikely to be reliable threats in Legacy.
Creatures with a toughness of one almost never qualify as threats.
Creatures that are easily killed with almost any type of targeted removal.
Creatures that aren’t in some way able to handle (or at least make up for) large under-costed creatures.
If any or all of these characteristics apply to creatures in your deck then you are not playing a threat in Legacy. The reason is that your creatures will lose out to either Goblins or Threshold and perhaps even both.
You might think that there is nowhere to go with creature-based strategies with Goblins swarming at one end and Threshold with its undercosted creatures at the other. This would be an incorrect assumption. These are some examples of recent decks that have been playing threats in Legacy.
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 1 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
- 4 Exalted Angel
- 4 Savannah Lions
- 4 Soltari Priest
- 4 Silver Knight
Angel Stompy is a very good example of a deck full of threats. Mother of Runes and Soltari Priest both seem to fail because they have a toughness of 1, but they are exceptions to the rule. Mother of Runes can protect herself from targeted creature removal, as well as any of the other creatures under your control. Soltari Priest is completely immune to any removal by Goblins and also has evasion, which is important against Goblins, Threshold, and any creature-based deck. Silver Knight is another good example of a threat. Silver Knight stops the Goblin swarm by being untargetable by Red removal, and it’s able to destroy an attacking Goblin without breaking a sweat. While Silver Knight is not as good against Threshold, it still provides a steady threat early in the game when Threshold decks may not have gained threshold, as well as being resistant to Red removal (Lightning Bolt) run by the Threshold decks running Red over White.
Exalted Angel represents one of the best definitions of a threat in Legacy. She flies, deals four damage a turn, gains you four life a turn, and, best of all, can be cast as early as turn 1 with acceleration and unmorphed as early as turn 2. Exalted Angel is hard for Goblins to kill, let alone recover from the life swing, and Threshold can only answer it with their flyer (which they only run two or three) or with their limited removal spells.
A counter example is Savannah Lions. They provide early damage, but die both to Mogg Fanatic and lose to every Threshold creature. They cannot count as a threat in Legacy. The trend has been to play more Isamarus, because of the two toughness and the same casting cost.
Zoo is another example of a deck that is playing threats in Legacy. Kird Ape takes down most goblins and trades with a Goblin Piledriver. The other 1-drop include Sarcomancy and Carnophage. Though not as big as a threshed Mongoose or Werebear they still provide early pressure. They both have more than one toughness, and so therefore they don’t just die to Mogg Fanatic. They are Black, meaning they are immune to most forms of Black removal. Flesh Reaver may seem like a suspect choice, but in actuality he is a great threat. He is always a 4/4 on turn 2, unlike Werebear. You might be wary of his drawback, but a deck that is running burn, lifegain – and most of all, a deck that is likely to be ahead in damage race – it hardly matters. Wild Mongrel and Rotting Giant compliment Flesh Reaver as the bigger threats in the deck. Rotting Giant provides a 3/3 for two mana with almost no drawback, given that this deck puts many cards into its graveyard. Burning Tree-Shaman has recently replaced the one-of Phyrexian War Beast but both fill the role of additional threat in the form of an efficiently costed threat. All of the creatures in this version of Zoo fall into the category of “threats.” This was one of the reasons a deck like this can be successful in Legacy.
You might be convinced that you are metagaming against Threshold and Goblins in many ways, but in actuality you have to be able to deal with threats of this magnitude. Goblins and Threshold are playing the threats in Legacy that have proven themselves. If you keep these threats in mind, you are likely to create decks with threats that are competitive – maybe even better.