Building A Legacy – Mental Misstep

Friday, April 22 – Has Drew Levin made his own mental misstep or will the face of Legacy be changed forever by the new free counterspell from New Phyrexia?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! (well, really just one, but still…)

On Tuesday afternoon, the entire New Phyrexia spoiler hit the internet. Of course, I spent the next twelve hours just staring at the images, scrolling
back and forth between each page. Of all the cards I saw, one rattled the four walls of my mind, distracting me from everything else. Without a doubt,
it was the most exciting Legacy card I’d ever seen on a spoiler page. It was the Spell Snare I’d always wanted but never dared to dream of. I’m sure
you’re all very familiar with:

Mental Misstep
Instant (U)

({pu} can be paid with either {U} or 2 life.)

Counter target spell with converted mana cost 1.

So how do we even begin to discuss this? My rhetoric, echoed and clarified by Patrick Chapin, was simple: this card will change Legacy as a format. I
promise. I’ll back that one up.

But how do we evaluate it as a card? Really, isn’t it two separate cards? Let’s start there.

Mental Misstep Is A Blue Card

I think that Mental Misstep is going to end up being the third-best blue card in Legacy behind Brainstorm and Force of Will. A lot of people have
brushed my excitement off as typical spoiler-season hype, but this card deserves a thorough discussion.

For starters, it’s a free counterspell. This alone puts it in rarefied company, with only Force of Will and Daze as close analogues. Daze, however, is
a blank on the draw on turn 1. Furthermore, even when you do cast Daze on turn 1 on the play, you’re tagging a one-mana spell a good majority of the
time. In doing so, though, you’re stunting your own development on the most crucial turn in which you could do so—you’re locking yourself out of
casting two-mana spells for another entire turn. Not great, but up until now, that’s what we had available.

By contrast, Force of Will is the second-best blue card in Legacy and is far and away the best counterspell in the format. The reason it’s so good is
that it provides blue decks a way to interact before they’ve played a single land. If there weren’t anything worth countering on turns 1 or 2, people
would probably just play Counterspell and Cryptic Command. Since there is plenty of stuff worth countering on turn 1, though, Force of Will has become
a linchpin of the format. It constrains the degeneracy of ten thousand cards’ interactions. As of right now, it’s the format’s bulwark against Goblin
Charbelcher and Tendrils of Agony.

Since the format has a lot of powerful turn-one plays, blue players will occasionally start on a mulligan to five and be grateful for it. That’s the
price of countering an Aether Vial, Entomb, Putrid Imp, Goblin Lackey, Thoughtseize, or even a Wild Nacatl.

Force of Will’s free interaction asks for two cards, but those two cards buy its caster a lot of time. In that time, the blue deck can recoup its lost
card by getting to cast its more powerful spells (see: Counterbalance / Jace, the Mind Sculptor / Dark Confidant).

Starting on May 8, the price for stopping a Sensei’s Divining Top, Mother of Runes, Breakthrough for zero, or Exploration won’t always be two cards and
one life. Sometimes, it will be one card and two life. This will have a huge effect on the metagame.

If you’ll remember my article on beating Force of Will, part of what holds Force of Will decks back is that they only get to play four. If you add four
Mental Missteps, the viability of decks whose plan is “resolve a one-drop and crush blue decks” plummets. What decks am I talking about?


These decks all lean pretty hard on their one-mana spells against blue decks. Dredge needs its Putrid Imps, Tireless Tribes, or Breakthroughs to
resolve if it’s to win. Breakfast only really needs Aether Vial to stick against blue decks for its crushing redundancy to overwhelm the blue deck’s
removal spells. CounterTop can win games just by resolving a turn 1 Sensei’s Divining Top and burying its blue opponent with superior card selection.
Painter can win the game against a blue deck very handily even if the only spell it resolves all game is a turn 1 Goblin Welder.

That’s not the only place where Mental Misstep shines. This is an amazing tool for holding back the most explosive aggressive starts from attack decks.
Decks like Cat Sligh and Goblins evaluate their opening hands’ viability based on the presence of a powerful one-mana spell. Really, how often can Cat
Sligh or Goblins keep a hand that doesn’t have a one-drop?

That level of interaction—and the cheap price tag that comes with it—is going to fundamentally change the viability of certain decks. For example, if
blue decks can basically play eight “Forces” for a Goblin Lackey or Aether Vial, how reliable is the deck’s plan of cheating on its mana costs?

Decks will need to come up with a way to counteract the broad adoption of Mental Misstep. Successful Dredge decks, for instance, will be playing Lion’s
Eye Diamond so that they can have a zero-mana discard outlet. As for all the more “traditional” decks? The ones that actually, you know, play Magic?
They’ll be the first to realize the next level of truth behind Mental Misstep:

Often, the best answer to a Mental Misstep is a Mental Misstep.

To explain, let’s get in the wayback machine and visit Grand Prix Chicago, circa 2009. At that time, people had realized that Counterbalance was a very
effective foil to a huge part of the metagame. But what beat Counterbalance best?

Counterbalance, of course! If a deck is organized to have a curve that’s incredibly synergistic with Counterbalance reveals, that means that it’s also
very vulnerable to opposing Counterbalance reveals. Similarly, if a deck is getting beat by Mental Misstep, the best solution will often be to play its
own Mental Missteps. Sure, you could try to cut ones to dodge Mental Misstep a la Dredge, but if you’re playing Brainstorms and Aether Vials and
Sensei’s Divining Tops and Grindstones, you might as well just accept the situation for what it is and be the bad guy.

So we’re about to enter an age where blue decks can play eight cards that counter very important one-drops. This will certainly degrade the value of
building decks around critical, proactive ones—the Aether Vials and Entombs of the format. But up until this point, I’ve been discussing Mental Misstep
from a defensive perspective—counter their Aether Vial, their Manabond, their Putrid Imp, their Wild Nacatl. What about its applications in an
offensive deck?

The most notable card that Mental Misstep counters, from a blue attack deck’s side of the table, is Swords to Plowshares. Having a free Avoid Fate is
going to change the way that certain decks sculpt a game plan. Sure, the card is narrow, but if you can narrow their options down to “Swords my Dark
Confidant / Merrow Reejerey / Phyrexian Dreadnaught or lose,” and then you have the trump for their removal spell? Yeah, I’d play that.

In an aggressive mirror, there’s another notable one-drop that can dominate a board position. Grim Lavamancer is typically worth a Force of Will from
Merfolk, plays the part of “implied exalted trigger” in Tarmogoyf trench warfare, and can pick apart the creature-based mana acceleration in opposing
Green Sun’s Zenith decks.

But what about Mental Misstep’s application in letting aggressive decks get to the point where they can deploy two-drops? Mental Misstep is a huge blow
to the viability of Stifle-based tempo decks.

There are a meaningful number of games that Stifle can Just Win by playing the part of one-mana Sinkhole on the play, letting you untap into Hymn to
Tourach to nab another land, Daze their one-mana spell, and Wasteland their dual land. Just imagine a world where instead, the victim simply Missteps
the Stifle, gets their land, and plays their spell. Much better, right? I mean, Team America could Misstep either one-mana spell, but that’s what you
get from a format-defining card: you’re going to see it everywhere.

Speaking of seeing it everywhere, I haven’t even scratched the surface of Mental Misstep’s true significance…

Mental Misstep Is Not A Blue Card

What Mental Misstep does to change Legacy on a broad scale is that it introduces free countermagic to the other four colors. Daze requires Islands;
Force of Will requires blue cards; but Mental Misstep requires only a life total of three or greater.

Mental Misstep gives decks with a fast clock but without counterspells the ability to meaningfully disrupt combo decks. The biggest problem with green
decks, red decks, and white decks in Legacy has been their weakness to combo decks. Cat Sligh is a perfectly reasonable deck but for the fact that
it’ll always be a turn and a half behind Tendrils and half a turn behind High Tide.

If the best “disruption” that a given deck can present to a dedicated combo deck is a turn 4 kill, it stands to reason that they’ll be behind in the
matchup. So what does Mental Misstep do to a Zoo vs. High Tide matchup?

It makes the High Tide deck have to have either two High Tides or a High Tide and a Force of Will. If the Zoo deck has two Mental Missteps backing its
turn-four-to-five clock, though, combo players will start respecting a turn 1 Arid Mesa into Savannah and Cat.

Mental Misstep’s prevalence need not stop at aggressive decks. I’ve always been a huge fan of Force of Will in combo decks, and Mental Misstep doesn’t
even ask you to throw away your cantrip!

What are these combo decks even defending themselves against? I mean, besides Thoughtseize, Sensei’s Divining Top, Pyroblast, Spell Pierce,
Cursecatcher, and Spell Snare?

Mental Misstep, of course.

Mental Misstep will not turn around the Lands vs. Tendrils matchup. It won’t let your mono-white Soldiers deck beat Belcher. But it will push back a
combo player’s fundamental turn and buy you just the turn you need to deliver the final blow.

Of course, if you can’t deliver the final blow in that turn, and you aren’t playing blue cards, and you aren’t playing combo yourself, and you haven’t
locked them out of playing all of their spells… then just what are you doing in this format?

Perhaps it’s best to examine not just what Mental Misstep does to certain matchups, but how it could possibly shift the entire format.

Everything Will Change

Let’s call the way things are right now the “Week One” of the new Legacy format. There are a lot of decks that employ a broad diversity of cards to
attack different angles of the metagame. Sounds healthy. Good format, right?

So along comes Mental Misstep. Of the Week One decks, Mental Misstep is going to hurt Dredge, High Tide, Goblins, and Zoo the most. That doesn’t mean
that it won’t affect other decks, but it’s not as likely to cripple the core functionality of the other decks. The reason why these four decks in
particular will be affected is that they lean heavily on their one-mana spells to influence the outcome of the game. Notably, Mental Misstep is
completely insane against all four of the above decks, whereas Daze is marginal or bad against each one.

Week Two of the Legacy metagame, then, could see the format slow down to compensate. The easy answer to the Mental Misstep subgame is to not play it,
so expect people to find their Chalice of the Void decks. After all, there’s still a lot of good stuff happening at one mana. If you’re going to make
an effort to dodge Mental Misstep, it’s probably best to not let people cast their own one-mana spells. Thus, Chalice of the Void.

Week Three of the metagame will see decks that prey on the slow Chalice of the Void decks. Fortunately, there’s a lot of them. In my experience, people
either go to zero mana or three mana to beat Chalice of the Void. They play Krosan Grips, Maelstrom Pulses, Pernicious Deeds, Trygon Predator, or Green
Sun’s Zenith for Qasali Pridemage. Alternatively, they play Lion’s Eye Diamond.

The problem with Lion’s Eye Diamond decks is that they’re very explosive and typically require a strong Force of Will presence in the metagame if
they’re to be stopped. If Mental Misstep really takes off in non-blue decks, though, then Lion’s Eye Diamond combo decks could have a while to run
rampant through the format. Keep in mind that these LED decks will have Mental Missteps to protect themselves from all the people packing Week One
decks (complete with four Mental Missteps of their own) to try to beat up on those combo decks.

Of course, if the format becomes all about one-mana spells, zero-mana spells, and Chalice of the Void, then Counterbalance with Trygon Predator starts
looking very appealing. From there, Merfolk has a clear opening to be the metagame predator it always wanted to be, attacking the blue decks and
aggressive decks with Missteps of their own. Still, almost regardless of what you’re packing, the Mental Misstep subgame is unavoidable: if you do not
build your deck with the intention of either maximizing or minimizing its impact, you hurt your chances of success.

Since a few paragraphs of metagame predictions seems like a poor way to sign off from the first week of a spoiler-season article, here are but a few
ways to find homes for Mental Misstep. Enjoy!


See you next week!

Drew Levin
@mtglegacy on Twitter