I have some exciting news for you guys about my writing for the next week. No, I’m not going Premium. Don’t worry; it’s nothing like that. On the
contrary, you’ll be seeing more of me than usual: I’ll be writing an article a day for the next week about the different Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors
decks in Legacy. Since Michael Bomholt’s second-place finish in the Indianapolis StarCityGames.com Legacy Open, I’ve been asked the same question by
many different people:
“Is this deck for real? I mean, it is going to take over the metagame?”
- 4 Metalworker
- 1 Sundering Titan
- 4 Goblin Welder
- 4 Lodestone Golem
- 4 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 4 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 2 Myr Battlesphere
My go-to answer has been, “There will never be a day that a deck with sixteen lands and zero cantrips can take over a Constructed format.”
Since scoffing, waving my arms around, and saying “oh, puh-leez, give me a break” turned out to not be an effective method of explaining Legacy
metagame trends, I decided to write an article about how Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors decks work and why, a lot of the time, they don’t work.
Unfortunately for me, there are hundreds of cards that are very strong contenders for inclusion in a Tomb/City deck in Legacy. If I were to write an
article addressing all of those cards, the different colors of Tomb/City decks and their respective strengths and weaknesses, it would be about 10,000
words long. Since no one wants to read that, Fearless Leader let
me split it up into bite-sized pieces.
Fortunately for you, this means that you will get all ten-thousand words about Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors; they’ll just be spread out over the
next 168 hours. Today’s article will focus on the mono-brown — meaning artifact-centric — variations of Ancient Tomb decks.
The reason why you want to play Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors at all is because you’re interested in creating a huge mana advantage for yourself on
turns 1-3. The objective of the deck is to leverage this mana advantage into some form of interaction-based advantage. If you aren’t pretty far ahead
after turn 3, you’re probably losing if you’re playing a deck with Ancient Tomb — the life loss and self-Sinkholing aren’t mana-base characteristics
that lend themselves well to wars of attrition.
There are two major draws to playing an Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors deck, one more visceral than the other. The first is that you get to do big, cool
things very early on in the game — say, cast Wurmcoil Engine while they’re still on one land. Not for everyone, but “going big” is an undeniable fun
The second draw is that you get to pummel a lot of decks built around conditionally valuable cards. Those are cards that aren’t always “worth” a card:
Counterbalance, for instance, isn’t worth a card until it counters a spell. Up to the point where it counters something, it’s an investment. If that
investment never pays off, you might as well have tapped two mana, discarded a card, and passed the turn — not an effect you want from a blue spell in
Legacy. Another example would be Aether Vial — it’s an effective mana battery, but it’s slower than the two-mana lands, and so it’s often outclassed by
Tomb and City decks’ superior acceleration.
The reason why Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors decks beat up on decks packing a lot of conditionally valuable cards is that Tomb/City decks attack from
an angle that removes most of the value from those cards. Often, this is achieved through rapid mana acceleration (nice Daze), although it can also be
done by resolving a card such as Trinisphere or Chalice of the Void.
Although they’re typically comprised of a lot of mana sources, Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors decks will not play like UrzaTron decks. They don’t
typically have a strong late game and cannot leverage their mana advantage to create traditional card advantage. Tomb/City decks are much closer to
Belcher decks in their style of play: they make a lot of mana very early, present a huge threat, and ask you to answer that threat in a very small time
frame. Both decks typically play about a dozen threats without any real control over their opening hands beyond careful deck construction.
Unlike Belcher, however, Tomb/City decks can play a real game of Magic if their Wurmcoil Engine or Steel Hellkite or Kuldotha Forgemaster is answered,
whereas Belcher will probably just sit there and look miserable once its Goblin Charbelcher is Force of Willed or its Goblin tokens have met their
carefully engineered explosion. It’s not much better, but you’re certainly not drawing dead after your Steel Hellkite discovers its preference for
plantation living. Of course,
it doesn’t hurt that Counterbalance is a miserable card against this deck as opposed to being the complete lockout that it is against Belcher.
Most of the decisions that you make with regard to your Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors deck will come well before you pay your tournament entry fee.
Although slot-based deckbuilding principles apply to the construction of Tomb/City decks particularly well, that doesn’t mean that the cards you select
are meaningless. Far from it, in fact: the lines of play that you have available to you in games will depend entirely on your deck construction.
The above statement might seem a bit fatuous: “Yes, Drew, we know that the cards we play affect the options we have available to us. Teach us more about Legacy, PLEASE.” The thing is you
don’t have Brainstorm or fetchlands in this deck. If you draw a card, you need to make sure that it has an impact on the game. You’re going to shuffle
up a lot of conditional cards no matter how you look at it, so it’s especially important to make the right decisions at home. In a Counterbalance deck,
you can just Brainstorm your Firespouts back if there aren’t a lot of aggressive decks at the tournament. In a Tomb/City deck, those maindecked
Ensnaring Bridges will make you feel like either a genius or an idiot, but you’ll have to make them work or lose trying. When it comes down to the
actual gameplay of the deck, you often have very few choices. For example, while playing Michael Bomholt’s deck, you could open this hand:
I guess you better start praying that they don’t have a Swords to Plowshares, a Pithing Needle, or a Force of Will, because you definitely can’t
mulligan that hand. That’s the blessing and the curse of the deck: your opening hands will often dictate the strategy you will pursue in that game.
Sometimes, you have to go all-in on a Kuldotha Forgemaster. Other times, you’ll have to pray that your Metalworker survives. Without any way to put a
read on your opponent, you’ll be unable to mulligan too many reasonable hands, yet there will be games where you have no chance of winning as soon as
you announce your keep.
The other side of the coin, of course, is that Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors decks benefit immensely from having a scout looking out for you. If you
know that you’re playing against Burn, for example, you could keep a hand that empties its hand to cast a turn 2 Wurmcoil Engine while mulliganing the
hand that requires Metalworker to survive to your next untap step.
There are two major strategic avenues involved in the construction of an Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors deck: either you want to play a traditional
Prison game or you want to play a Stompy-style game. When I discuss Prison, I’m talking about a style of deck construction that seeks to prevent
opponents from gaining any real advantage from their cards, often by denying them the ability to play their spells. When I discuss Stompy, I’m talking
about a style of deck construction that tries to cast one or two large creatures very early on in the game and attempt to win with those creatures
before the opponent can draw or cast an answer.
The color of your Tomb/City deck is very influential in whether it’s even possible to play a more aggressive type of deck. This option will be
thoroughly discussed throughout next week. Due to card availability and mana constraints, however, you will need to build your deck to straddle the
design territories of “lock your opponent out” and “deploy large beaters quickly” if you’re playing a mono-brown Tomb/City deck.
There are a core group of cards that demand playset-level inclusion in any mono-brown Legacy list, regardless of strategy. They are Ancient Tomb, City
of Traitors, Wasteland, Mox Diamond, Grim Monolith, and Metalworker. To the card breakdown machine!
Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors
: The only Legacy-legal, unconditional, multi-use, two-mana lands. Their primary purpose is to accelerate out insanely powerful artifacts well ahead of
schedule. Your opening hands are dictated in no small part by the presence of one of your eight two-mana lands.
: The deck is strongest in the first four turns of the game, so having an uncounterable way of further restricting an opponent’s options is a valuable
asset. The deck can also flip to a mana denial strategy in the midgame if it draws enough of its prison-style elements, a place where Wasteland shines.
In a deck of very few decisions and options, having the versatility of both producing mana and presenting cheap, early disruption in one card makes
Wasteland a valuable asset.
: The deck’s best turn 1 plays are three-mana artifacts. A two-mana land in conjunction with a Mox Diamond makes three mana. The reason why Mox Opal
doesn’t quite cut it is that there is no way to get metalcraft on turn 1 and still have three mana remaining to play your sweet artifact.
I cannot quite fathom why Michael Bomholt went with a 3/3 split of Diamonds and Opals as opposed to a 4/2 split. Mox Diamond, besides enabling your
most broken turn ones, is much more synergistic with the rest of the deck through its ability to potentially turn on Goblin Welder or Crucible of
Worlds by discarding Great Furnace or Wasteland. Given that his deck was, appropriately, a Metalworker deck, I cannot understand or agree with his
decision to cut a superior Mox for a far more conditional and slower one. The only rationale for cutting a Mox Diamond is that he wasn’t playing enough
lands, but that’s an obvious deck construction deficiency that’s easily fixed by adding more lands, simultaneously alleviating the deck’s biggest flaw:
Bomholt’s decision to play only sixteen lands!
Okay, aside over.
: This is probably your best card. Grim Monolith gets you to three mana on turn 1 or to six mana on turn 2, both of which are major mana thresholds in
this archetype. In a deck defined by both its raw power and the inconsistency that tempers it, this is one of very few cards that gives you choices.
: Typically taps for 6-8 mana. In a deck full of expensive creatures and artifacts, this is exactly the sort of creature that you want to be tapping on
turn 2. If you enjoy casting spells well before Richard Garfield intended for you to be able to, play four.
From there, the deck’s construction becomes a little more open to personal preference. As with any archetype, you have options. What makes this
archetype either instantly boring or an endless barrel of monkeys and hours of fun is that deck construction is a color-by-numbers game. Let’s look at
Mr. Bomholt’s deck again:
- 4 Metalworker
- 1 Sundering Titan
- 4 Goblin Welder
- 4 Lodestone Golem
- 4 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 4 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 2 Myr Battlesphere
Now let’s break it down by function:
Once we have organized the deck along those lines, it’s easier to see where it’s not going to stack up well. For instance, this is a more
combo-oriented deck: it wants to activate Kuldotha Forgemaster and Tinker up a huge robot. Once we have that goal in mind, the other pieces fall into
place. We add Goblin Welders to recover essential artifacts that we sacrificed to Forgemaster. We start cutting lands for Mox Opals so that we can cast
Goblin Welder. We add Lightning Greaves to further diminish the window of opportunity that our opponent has to interact with our powerful creatures. We
add Voltaic Key so that we have more cheap artifacts to sacrifice to Forgemaster, not to mention doubling down on our Monolith, Metalworker, and
Forgemaster activations. We add Sensei’s Divining Top to smooth out our draws and to help dig to one of the fifteen lands left in the deck. Voila! A
The thing is we could’ve gone in a very different direction with the deck without much effort. Let’s say Staff of Domination caught our eye before
Kuldotha Forgemaster did, and we noticed that Staff + Metalworker + three artifacts in hand = infinite mana and thus infinite activations of all of
Staff’s abilities. Since we don’t care so much about Goblin Welder anymore, we can cut that. We can cut Mox Opals and Voltaic Keys because we don’t
need cheap artifacts with relatively narrow functionality. Suddenly, we can play Chalice of the Void and set it to one counter — a powerful play in a
format defined by Brainstorm, Swords to Plowshares, and Sensei’s Divining Top.
From our “mana” list above, we can replace the three Mox Opals and two Great Furnaces with one Mox Diamond and four Darksteel Citadels, thus
maintaining the artifact count for Metalworker while also increasing the land count so as to bolster Mox Diamond.
From our “bombs” list, we can cut the four Kuldotha Forgemasters, two Myr Battlespheres, and one Sundering Titan for four Staffs of Domination and
three Steel Hellkites, narrowing the focus of our deck to casting powerful three-drops and enormous six-drops.
From our “utility” list, we can cut the four Goblin Welders, four Voltaic Keys, two Sensei’s Divining Tops, and two Lightning Greaves. Since we are
more interested in keeping our opponents off of their game long enough to assemble Staff of Domination and Metalworker, we will want more disruption.
Let’s add four Chalices of Void, four Trinispheres, three Tangle Wires, and one Crucible of Worlds.
This leaves us with
Voila! A list that is likely to have more game against aggressive decks — due to the presence of Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, Tangle Wire, and the
ability to gain infinite life — and less game against control decks due to the absence of Sundering Titan, Myr Battlesphere, and Goblin Welder. As you
can see, there are many different ways to build and tool this archetype to fit your personal preferences while also remaining flexible in the face of
A word of caution to the overeager, though: this archetype can never define the Legacy metagame. If someone really wants to beat you, they will.
Besides the fact that Krosan Grip is the single best sideboard card in the format, there are plenty of other hate cards for artifact linear decks.
Furthermore, your mana base is wildly inconsistent, and you don’t really have any way to control your draw steps beyond prayer for divine intervention.
If people are aiming to beat you, those foes will find ways to overload and attack one of your resources and beat you with a more consistent plan of
So why play this deck? Put simply, it can play the part of effective metagame foil. Goblin Piledriver beats Lord of Atlantis, but Wurmcoil Engine beats
both of them. Certain Counterbalance decks might be able to stop attacks from Tarmogoyf and Progenitus alike with Moat, but Chalice of the Voids set to
one and zero will protect a Steel Hellkite long enough for the metal Dragon to fly off with the victory.
Besides, sometimes you really do get to live the dream:
Alex Bertoncini: so some guy natural orders for progenitus on turn 3 [sic]
Alex Bertoncini: ahahahahahahahahaha
Join me on Monday for a discussion of two very different ways that you can make a City of Angels!