Bant GeistDeathNemesisBlade.dec

If you’re looking for a deck to play at SCG Legacy Open: Indianapolis this weekend, check out the Bant Deathblade list Glenn’s been playing on Magic Online.

After I got the Holiday Cube out of my system, I began longing for some Constructed play. I have some Standard PTQs planned for January, but I already know what I’ll be doing in those—casting Pack Rat. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of Grand Prix Prague and how they affect Modern as we head into the Pro Tour and Grand Prix Richmond to follow, but the Magic Online metagame has stagnated significantly for now. Next week I’m planning to analyze the data we do have and take a look at what sort of metagame we should expect in Europe.

I’m working on two brews when I can, but they aren’t quite ready for prime time—bear with me. I’ll get to them, I promise.

When I want to game online, I often find myself playing a lot of Legacy, which is one of my favorite formats. I like the diversity within the metagame and the healthy amount of interplay present in virtually every matchup. There aren’t a lot of one-sided beatings in Legacy because both decks are running cards that are very cheap and very powerful—this means the variance of mana screw has less impact and even a player who falls behind can catch up quickly with the right cards.

At the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas, everyone knew True-Name Nemesis had become a major enemy. Owen Turtenwald’s win at Grand Prix Washington DC and the sheer number of True-Name decks in the room had put up convincing numbers. I can’t recall who—my gut says Sam Black or Owen—but I recall hearing someone discussing that their deck was good when people were trying to play with Nemesis but bad when people were trying to play against it.

I spent a few weeks waiting for True-Name Nemesis to become legal on Magic Online, mostly playing Owen’s deck with Geists in their place, until I read Josh Ravitz’s article on Esper Stoneblade. He brought up some very convincing arguments for running Stoneblade without True-Name Nemesis. Fundamentally, he’d structured his version to be a true control shell rather than a deck that wanted to try to race anyone. This way he could blank opposing removal and grind people out with Academy Ruins if they tried to go long while leaning on Stoneforge Mystic and his own removal against decks that tried to play a short game.

The biggest turn-on for me was the incorporation of Liliana of the Veil in the shell. I think Stoneblade matches up fine against combo decks, but the idea of a threat that could put combo into a vise while also frequently addressing the True-Name Nemesis problem was very attractive.

Here’s Josh’s list:

I put together a record of 15-5 in about a week or so, only failing to cash one Daily Event, and the deck felt pretty good. I noticed a bit of a shift as the new Commander product hit the Magic Online store, and more and more frequently I found myself paired against the Merfolk Rogue. Most of the time it was fine—I didn’t usually struggle against Owens U/W/R deck, which was popular, and Esper Stoneblade mirrors still usually revolved around more important resources than a 3/1 for three.

The trick came from Esper Deathblade.

Deathblade could pull a lot of the same stunts as Esper Stoneblade, but Deathrite Shaman himself was a threat often worthy of earning Swords to Plowshares. The Deathblade decks were also very resilient to Liliana, and it was difficult to pin down a True-Name and resolve the planeswalker with a careful sequence—you just needed too many things to go right. Their Thoughtseizes just felt better than mine most of the time because their increased threat density and mana advantage made Ruins a touch too slow and let them nimbly grind out games against my answers.

I went about even in the matchup, but I also felt like I’d gotten lucky a bit and would’ve been able to win most of the games my opponents were losing if our roles were reversed. I don’t say that out of any kind of conceit—it’s just a sensation I’m wary of experiencing, and it’s an important bit of intuition if you’re going to playtest seriously on Magic Online. Gleaning information from matches without relying on the results is necessary when you have anonymous opponents. The Legacy players on Magic Online are probably better than the average Magic Online player, but they are still as vulnerable to mistakes or misunderstandings of roles as anyone else, including myself.

I’d gained a healthy respect for Esper Deathblade while watching it perform at Grand Prix and Pro Tours, and it did reasonably well in the Invitational as well. If it was going to be more popular online, I’d probably want to adjust my deck or switch archetypes entirely.

At this point I realized that basically nobody had tried to kill me on turn 2 or 3 in the past few Daily Events. On Magic Online this is a true rarity—I think it’s one of the most combo-saturated Legacy metagames around. Examining posted results also indicated that combo decks were either being played less or losing more.

If that was the case, then fighting fair with fairer would be a very reasonable path to take. Now, I wasn’t interested in diving into Jund—it’s just not my cup of tea, and I love the feeling of drawing Brainstorm too much. But I liked many of the concepts in Esper Deathblade.

I remembered a match I’d played against a player named Hoppelars. He’d been jamming Deathrite Shaman, Stoneforge Mystic, and True-Name Nemesis, but he’d also packed in Geist of Saint Traft and Noble Hierarch! Truthfully I don’t remember whether I won the match, but I remember getting crushed in a game and thinking that it felt miserable for me. All those mana producers gave him Deathblade-esque starts more often, and the high number of threats could be staggering.

Looking into Daily Event results, the earliest posting I found for Hoppelars’ decklist came from echecetmat35, who went 4-0 in a Daily on 12/21.

Let’s start by discussing what I liked.

Looking at the decklist, it bears some similarity to the Bant deck that Reid Duke designed and Sam Black took to a Top 8 at GP DC. You’ve got the additional complement of mana creatures, the higher density of threats at three mana, and the basic U/W disruption package. Giving up Knight of the Reliquary and Green Sun’s Zenith, you gain Deathrite Shaman and more aggressive three-drops that also add to your blue card count.

In a world filled with players trying to cast True-Name Nemesis, this deck is very good at casting it and very good at defeating it. How so? Well, it casts the card faster and more frequently thanks to the multitude of mana dudes. Sword of Fire and Ice in a deck with several little creatures also allows this deck to race down the 3/1 more often than not. Lots of people have added this Sword to their decks—I think this deck employs Sword of Fire and Ice better than most.

All of those mana creatures are also very good against tempo strategies, especially alongside the basic Forest. On the play, tempo matchups often feel very tough to lose—the opponent is struggling to catch up immediately and often dead on the spot to a resolved Nemesis. On the draw, you’ve still got a lot of ways to jump ahead, and they have to burn their Dazes earlier than they’d like.

Playing all the nonred colors gives you access to every good sideboard card in the format except for Ancient Grudge and Pyroblast basically. Funny but true!

Krosan Grip is nice right now with all the Equipment fighting.

What didn’t I like?

Having only four fetch lands for the basic Forest sort of defeats the purpose of playing it. I don’t think the tradeoff of being able to fetch black with every land is worth that sacrifice, and that’s the only thing you’re giving up by not playing Windswept Heath instead. Heath is better, and you can make room for Bayou if the black issue matters that much to you—perhaps at the expense of a Wasteland, Savannah, or as a 21st land.

I didn’t like the split on three-drops. We’re all adults—one of these cards is better. If Geist is better, then there are some legitimate arguments for a three-three division, but I don’t think it’s possible that Geist is the better card right now. True-Name is just so good, albeit slightly more difficult to cast. I immediately switched to four and two.

Hierarch is awesome, but it’s also going to catch splash damage from all the True-Name hate. In post-board games, you will need to sequence carefully.

Spell Snare isn’t very attractive. Stoneforge Mystic is the bee’s knees right now, sure, but what’s the plan—not cast a mana dork on the draw? On the play, we’re not going to hold back with our three-drop very often either, so that’s a pretty narrow set of circumstances for a counterspell that is narrow enough already. Neither Snapcaster Mage nor Tarmogoyf are especially incredible against this deck . . . I didn’t understand how this card fits into the deck’s general game plan, as it’s a deck that could very easily fail to have open mana until turn 4.

The Detention Spheres in the sideboard I’m a bit ambivalent about since it’s really only decent against Sneak and Show and I guess some control decks and bad combo decks. One’s probably fine.

The Golgari Charms are a flagrant foul. Not only does it kill your own Nemesis and Hierarchs in the -1/-1 mode, but if your board is safe from -1/-1 thanks to Geist of Saint Traft, you might accidentally make their Charms and Persecutions live by casting your own. Green is easier to get than white but not so much easier that Zealous Persecution isn’t the better card. It even counters opposing Persecutions and Charms! If you really need a Disenchant or a Wrap in Vigor, by all means . . . but we really don’t.

Rest in Peace is an excellent if awkward bit of graveyard hate. I think it’s potent enough to earn its place and maybe should even have the industry standard second copy. The biggest problem is you don’t board out Deathrite Shaman against RUG Delver even as you bring this in, so . . .

I find it very unlikely that Silence is better than Flusterstorm considering how good the latter is against Sneak and Show and tempo decks. That also opens up slots by relieving the burden on Spell Pierce.

Taking to heart some of the lessons I learned playing U/W/R and Esper Stoneblade, I trimmed the list to reflect my own ideas. This is where I’m currently at:

I’m trying out twenty lands and Ponder after playing with 21 lands a fair bit; I cut the Savannah to make room since I haven’t really wanted to fetch for it ever. It’s possible that I’m being greedy and should add another Tropical Island to the deck in that slot or perhaps over the fourth Force of Will—I’m a little light on blue cards for the full four copies, but Daze tends to become blank more often than most. After sideboarding my blue count increases a lot in Force matchups, so the fourth Force probably just belongs in the sideboard . . . but I’m a Greedy Gus!

Fair warning—this list is lighter on the white mana, so play carefully. It’s very awkward to have Stoneforge Mystic in play, Batterskull in hand, and no way to make fetch happen. If I can’t preserve a safe land, I’ll often fetch Jitte or Sword for value—the Mystic dies a lot anyway, and this can create some misinformation if the opponent assumes you naturally drew Batterskull.

If your metagame is combo centric, you’re going to be better off playing the black-based Deathblade lists that have discard spells and often Lilianas—depending upon how big combo is, you may want to go all the way to Esper Stoneblade a la Ravitz. However, I’m really digging this particular deck within the Magic Online metagame at the moment. If you see me online, odds are this is what I’m playing!