I’m going to shoot straight with you guys: I’m having a difficult time with my approach to Grand Prix Providence. It’s less than a
week away as I write this, and while I have a good idea of what I want to play, my mindset about the tournament itself is far murkier. For all the
StarCityGames.com grinders who are in a different town every week playing Legacy, this is more likely to feel like “just another
tournament.” That’s how I’d love to think about it, and it’s how I need to think about it if I’m going to be successful
on Saturday and Sunday. It’s not, however, how I’m thinking about it right now.
There’s a sentiment about the Pro Tour that I have to imagine is widespread. This sentiment goes something like, “All these FNMs, SCG
Opens, and PTQs are one thing, but GP Day Twos and Pro Tours are a completely different sort of Magic.” This is a mindset from which I need to
escape if I’m going to succeed at high-level Magic. Yes, it’s playing at the highest level, but do you think that the people at the top got
there by being intimidated by their own potential and by the success they were striving so hard to attain?
I have been struggling with the idea of how I’ll approach and perform at an American Legacy Grand Prix since Sunday evening in Columbus. The
residual disappointment, the sickening sense of fingertips slipping off of the cliff face and falling, the waiting… it’s all there. I was
Just Some Guy in Columbus. I had won a very small GPT for my byes and knew only the people I had come with. I didn’t play Standard in those days.
Times have changed. I went out and made things happen, got a writing contract, threw myself into the SCG Open Series circuit, and made a group of
friends that have welcomed me with open arms into their homes, picked me up from airports, and run up to me with hugs at tournaments in states
I’d never visited before. I worked hard to teach people about a format that I love, to constantly question my own knowledge and limitations, and
to continually reassess not just who I am but what I want and how I’m going to get from here to there.
It’s hard to see Providence as “just another tournament,” and yet that’s exactly where I’ll need to be on Saturday
morning. It’s so easy to paint this as a moment in time where I’ll prove myself or not. That’s the internal narrative I’m
battling this week—“Do you really deserve to be a Premium writer? How much do you really know about Legacy?” My hardest task will be
to find serenity amidst all of the voices.
You guys, on the other hand, have other concerns. A lot of people have asked me for updates to the mono-blue list that Gerry and I played in Orlando. I
hate to disappoint you guys, but if I play an update on the deck, I don’t want my angles to be public knowledge. Gerry and I have collectively
written over three thousand words on the deck. If you can’t tweak it to be able to beat Thrun, the Last Troll or “discard Golgari
Grave-Troll, go,” then you probably weren’t going to win the GP anyway.
What I can do for you is present all of the information we have available in a neatly organized fashion and give you my impressions of
what are the playable and non-playable decks in the current Legacy metagame. Here are the ten decks that I would be content to sleeve up on Saturday
What To Play
- 1 Inkwell Leviathan
- 1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
- 1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
- 1 Terastodon
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 3 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur
- 4 Metalworker
- 1 Sundering Titan
- 4 Lodestone Golem
- 4 Wurmcoil Engine
- 4 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 1 Blightsteel Colossus
Five fair decks, five unfair decks. If you were paying attention, though, you’ll notice that, of the fair decks, two of them are (nearly)
mono-blue, and two of them are B/G/x, while all four have Wastelands. This isn’t a coincidence: if you’re playing fair in this format, you
have to be able to keep your opponent’s mana in check, since they’re going to be doing better things with their mana than you can do with
There’s also a fundamental truth to Legacy combo decks that people don’t pay enough attention to: they have to be land-light. If
they’re land-heavy, they’re slower and thus worse. Since they trim lands for action, they can be explosive early while still drawing live
in the mid-to-endgame. In exchange, though, they have an occasional crippling vulnerability to a Wasteland.
Since Mental Misstep’s printing, the card Wasteland has moved from a strategy (Stifle, Wasteland, Daze, Sinkhole you and maybe Life from the Loam
it back too) to a tool, much as Swords to Plowshares or Polluted Delta are tools. The format is slower, so dedicated mana denial is pretty unrealistic
as a plan. Wasteland, though, works just as well in an aggressive deck, a midrange deck, or a control deck.
Therefore, Dave Price’s Zoo deck can (and should) be modified to include at least three Wastelands. The mana base can definitely be modified to
accommodate three or four Wastelands while still making 3/3 Wild Nacatls on turn 2. I mean, how many Horizon Canopies and basic lands do you need? What
are you scared of, exactly? Flooding?
Here, let me give you a cleaner view of it: Horizon Canopy draws you a card on turn 2 or afterward. Since you’re playing Zoo, your cards are
pretty mediocre in Legacy. Your big redeeming quality is that you can kill the other guy pretty fast. If you don’t kill him really fast, then
presumably you can activate these Horizon Canopies and draw more cards with which to kill him! Sounds good, right?
Well, would you rather draw a (bad) card or stop them from playing their (good) card? I’ll make it even easier: you and U/W Standstill each have
three lands. You have Taiga, Savannah, X, and they have Tundra, Island, Island. You have a one-drop and a Path to Exile in hand to their two cards.
Would you rather have Horizon Canopy or Wasteland as your third land? I mean, do you really want to draw your Kird Ape or whatever it is or would you
rather stop him from casting his Jace, the Mind Sculptor? How is this even close?
I would not recommend playing Dave Price’s exact list if you’re playing Zoo, since there’s no reason to not play Wasteland in that
deck. I mean, it even has Knight of the Reliquary, so you can tutor your Wastelands up! To all you guys slinging Wild Nacatls on Saturday: please, give
yourself a chance against the unfair decks. Play Wasteland.
Okay, enough about Wasteland for the moment. Let’s look at these decks one-by-one to try to understand how they fit into the metagame and what
makes each of them good.
This is probably the best deck in the format. If you can reliably beat Merfolk with BUG, it’s a very potent weapon. The deck plays the
second-best pure attrition card in the format in Hymn to Tourach, has the two best creatures in the format in Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf, has the two
best counters in the format, has the best land in the format, has the best one-mana instant in the format, and has the best four-mana card in the
format. Really, the only thing it doesn’t have is the best removal spell in the format, which will always be Swords to Plowshares.
BUG is also a deceptively skill-intensive deck to play. Yes, the mirror is pretty miserable and revolves a lot around Hymn to Tourach and Dark
Confidant, but there are still plenty of edges to be gained through tight play. For those of you wondering what that might look like, I invite you to
watch Gerry or AJ not cast Brainstorm for seven turns while missing a crucial land drop for the last four. There are people out there making Top 8s of
SCG Opens who Brainstorm on their opponent’s end step with no fetchland in play and an already perfect hand. There are people out there who keep
Force of Will in their deck for the BUG mirror. The BUG mirror may feel like a crapshoot when your opponent casts Dark Confidant on the play and you
don’t have any removal or counters and they cast a Hymn to Tourach a turn for the next four turns, but you probably could’ve played a
different land on turn 1 to at least represent Daze or Brainstorm; instead, you played your Bayou and laid your hand face-up on the table. How unlucky.
The reason why BUG is a good choice for the GP is that it presents a constant stream of hyper-efficient one-for-ones and two-for-ones backed up by a
swift clock. If your opponent can’t handle that, they’re going to lose. Incidentally, a lot of people don’t build their Legacy decks
with “what if they cast Hymn to Tourach?” in mind. Use that to your advantage—you want to be the one casting Hymn, not the one
placing your hand facedown and handing them the dice.
BUG also has a lot of strong sideboard options available to it. Blue, black, and green are Legacy’s best three colors in that order, so it should
come as no surprise that BUG can play answers to just about every problem it will face. If your strong suit is building sideboards to attack specific
metagames, this deck is right up your alley.
The catch to all of this rosy news is that all of your matchups will be very close. You’ll occasionally blow someone out by Wastelanding their land in
a borderline one-land keep, but far more often, you’ll have to earn every single win you get. The deck does not play itself, nor is it particularly
forgiving of mistakes. If you want to outplay your opponent, grind them into the dust, and earn every game you get, this deck is for you. If you just
want to throw your deck at your opponent, scream “Matt Elias told me to do this!”, and sign the match slip 2-0 in your favor, I’ll
see you in the Unfair Decks section. For the rest of you, please consider playing Dark Confidant. He really is the best creature in the format.
Merfolk is the fun police of the format. Every time I come up with some sweet blue midrange do-nothing deck, along comes Lord of Atlantis to kick over
my sand castle and take my lunch money and sweet-talk my little sister too. Merfolk is a deck that can kill on turn 4 or turn 14—really,
it’s all the same to them. As Legacy’s premier tempo-based aggressive deck, Merfolk is theoretically favored against all decks with
Brainstorm in them. The reason for this is somewhat complicated, but since it was the subject of forum discussion in my last article, it seems worth
Brainstorm is a card that has a ton of upsides—it lets you play more conditional cards by mitigating the downside of drawing them in a spot where
you don’t want them, it lets you cheat mana counts by allowing you to see more cards per game, it lets you fundamentally change your hand at
crucial points during the game, and so on. Its big downside, such that it exists, is that it doesn’t affect the board or the stack.
Yeah, sure, all the other cards affect the board and the stack, I know. But you fall just a little behind whenever you use mana to improve your hand
against Merfolk. If tempo is measured in development and development is measured in mana efficiency, then Brainstorming is a tempo-negative play by
definition. Its negative effects are small enough that we don’t really care about its tempo-negative nature, but the fact remains.
So why bring this up? What does this have to do with Merfolk? Well, Merfolk preys on decks that don’t use their mana to interact with the board
or that use their mana inefficiently. Half of its counters are conditional, “soft” counters—so named because they don’t
actually provide a hard counter-wall for opposing spells, instead relying on an opponent who is trying to maximize their mana usage in a given turn.
The creature base of Merfolk generates a significant clock, making efficient mana use a necessity. At the same time, though, Daze and Cursecatcher
punish opponents for using their mana too efficiently.
This is the dilemma that Merfolk presents to its opponent every single round: get frisky, and I’ll Daze and Wasteland you right out of the game;
get too relaxed, and I’ll cast a lord every turn until you’re dead. Control decks that don’t pressure Merfolk on any resources often
lose with a bunch of trumps in-hand: Ensnaring Bridge, Peacekeeper, Moat, Pyroblast, and so on. Of course, they got Wastelanded twice (how lucky), and
their big trump got Dazed, and then they lost to exactsies because Merfolk drew a third lord (makes me sick).
What makes Merfolk resilient to a wide range of decks is that, unlike Zoo, Merfolk’s cards make one another more difficult to answer.
Damage-based removal can become completely dead on certain board states while Cursecatcher can push a sweeper’s arrival timeline back just far
enough to have its caster dead just before the spell ever finds its way to the stack.
Merfolk has a ton of tools that are subtly different, but it’s in those differences that good players find all of their edges. Sure, Coralhelm
Commander and Lord of Atlantis are both two-mana 2/2 “lords,” but you have to be careful about which one you play on turn 2. It may not
seem like much, but they’re different cards—you don’t want to have your Lord of Atlantis facing down a Knight of the Reliquary while
your Islands go unused and your Coralhelm Commander is watching from the graveyard. Merfolk has the undeserved stigma of being the non-thinking
man’s blue deck in Legacy. One need only watch Alex Bertoncini play matches to see how hard someone can think about whether they want to level
their Coralhelm Commander to level one or two.
I think this is the best aggressive deck in the format. It’s by far the best Aether Vial deck; it has up to twelve counterspells, it has the best
mana base in the format, and it has a ton of utility in its threat base. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys Limited: it has combat tricks, a
few counters, and a ton of combat math. What’s not to like?
I dedicated a few thousand words to explaining the deck in last week’s article, so instead of going back over that, I’ll explain why this
is on the “play” side instead of the “skip” side.
This is the best Jace deck in Legacy. Standstill is the best attrition card in Legacy, and Jace is very close to being the best win condition in
Legacy. This deck may well be better at grinding people out than BUG is. It has the best endgame in the format and more counterspells than any other
blue deck. So why isn’t this just a lock for first pick?
Fifty-minute rounds. See, if rounds were ninety minutes, this would be the best deck in the format. As it stands, there is a very real possibility that
piloting this deck will land you in the draw bracket. From there, the situation only gets worse: you’re either going to play a control mirror or
against someone who plays slowly. Either way, the draw bracket is the last place you want to be with a deck like this. Take this, then, as a caveat
against playing the deck:
If you do not know exactly what spells you’re willing to let resolve and which ones you’ll counter at all points during a game, you should not play
this deck. A huge part of playing a deck like this successfully is pattern recognition and muscle memory: you know what’s important and what
isn’t, you can play quickly without feeling like you’re making mistakes, and you can think your turns out before you take them so as to
minimize the amount of time spent on each cycle. If you can’t do all of that and be completely willing to call a judge on an opponent
who enjoys luxuriating in their main phases, don’t play this deck. There are enough strong options out there that you shouldn’t play a deck
that will drain you of mental energy by going to time every round.
That said, if you have a ton of experience with decks like Riptide Faeries or Draw-Go, this deck is right in your wheelhouse. If I were to play this
deck, though, I’d be sure to have friends willing to grab me lunch, since there’s almost no chance of having much time between rounds while
Junk is a BUG deck that’s better against Merfolk and worse against combo. There’s more to it, but inasmuch as you’re debating between
the two Bayou decks, that’s the main distinction.
Junk has always been a two-for-one, disruption-heavy deck. When Knight of the Reliquary came out, though, Knight became a centerpiece of the deck. Junk
uses Knight as utility, playing a mana base with a tremendous amount of utility. From Maze of Ith to Karakas to Horizon Canopy, Junk uses Knight better
than any other deck in the format. The appeal of Knight (besides just being a sweet card) is that it allows the deck to refocus its resources to
address whatever fight is most important. Did they miss their land drop? Tutor up all of your Wastelands and knock them out of the game. Is their
Coralhelm Commander racing your Knight? Tutor up a Maze of Ith—it works on both sides of the table. To explain:
The Maze of Ith trick requires an active Knight and an untapped Maze of Ith. You attack with your Knight; they either block or don’t, and damage
happens. At the end of combat, after the damage step, you activate Maze targeting Knight, which is still attacking, since you’re still in combat.
Maze can’t prevent the damage, so it doesn’t do that, but it does untap Knight. The end result is that Maze functions as a sort of Minamo,
School at Water’s Edge.
Knight tricks, though, aren’t the reason to play this deck. If you want a deck with solid game against everything in the format and a ton of
strong cards against Merfolk, I strongly recommend Junk. Of course, there is one downside to playing Junk—you can’t really beat a
Lion’s Eye Diamond with any consistency. If you don’t draw the disruption part of your deck, you can very easily just be dead on turn 2 or
3. That’s why BUG is more popular than Junk—you give up Knight of the Reliquary and Swords to Plowshares, but you get Force of Will and
Brainstorm. To a great extent, a decision between BUG and Junk should be made based on the metagame you expect to face in Providence. Both decks,
though, are very defensible choices for this Grand Prix.
Zoo feels like a Junk deck that wants to beat Merfolk even more, stands even less of a chance of beating combo, and doesn’t play Dark Confidant.
It’s one of the only decks in the format still playing one-drops that plan on attacking (as opposed to, say, Goblin Welder or Tireless Tribe).
Zoo was hit pretty hard by the printing of Mental Misstep, but it’s far from dead. This may be the deck best-equipped to run the “no
fear” plan—just jam all of your one-drops into Misstep. If they drew all of their Missteps, well, good for them. If they didn’t, they
better have Engineered Explosives. Legacy still has a ton of undercosted, hard-hitting one-drops, and Zoo gets to play them all. If people are building
their decks to beat midrange and control mirrors, there will likely be a huge vulnerability to Steppe Lynx. If you’re the sort of person who
enjoys attacking for two, three, or four, this deck is still a very real quantity.
In many ways, Zoo reminds me of Junk. The major difference between the two is that Zoo has burn and more creatures where Junk has disruption. Whereas
Junk uses Knight of the Reliquary for utility in an attrition war, Zoo uses Knight as animal, playing it more for its tendency to be a 6/6 in a deck
with ten fetchlands and three Horizon Canopies. As I mentioned earlier, though, I firmly believe that Zoo ought to be playing either three or four
Wastelands, especially with Knight of the Reliquary in the deck. This change would bring Zoo even closer in form to Junk, which isn’t necessarily
a bad thing. After all, if your one-drops are clocking them, why not try to bomb their mana base back into the Stone Age?
A major reason to play Junk or Zoo is that both decks enjoy a favorable matchup against Merfolk. The combination of gigantic monsters and the nearly
unanswerable Dark Confidant is a strong choice against Merfolk, while Zoo’s strategy of attacking and overloading Merfolk’s creature base
with removal is a tried-and-true tactic. Given that tribal aggro decks are traditionally well represented at Legacy events and given that Merfolk is
far and away the best tribal aggro deck in the format right now, it stands to reason that playing a deck that beats one of the most prevalent decks in
the room is a strong choice. That said, try not to get paired against combo… there’s a reason that three of the five fair decks that
I’m recommending are blue.
If you don’t know the format very well, I think you could do a lot worse than play an unfair deck. The beauty of unfair decks is that they
require far less format knowledge than fair decks in order to play at a somewhat-optimal level. All five of these decks have unbeatable or
nigh-unbeatable draws, with three of them being capable of winning on turn 2.
Let me be upfront about this: I do not think Dredge is that great of a deck. It has a ton of inherent power, which is how it made my list of decks to
play, but it does not give a skilled pilot much room to push their edge. If I want to play a deck that lets me exploit my opponent’s lack of
skill, I can think of a lot of enchantments I’d rather play than Bridge from Below.
Part of my beef with Dredge is that it’s just a normal deck that relies heavily on its opening hand to set up a winning game state. In Zoo decks,
you don’t need exactly a land, a creature, and a burn spell in order to even play Magic. In Dredge, for the most part, you do. Without a discard
outlet, a dredger, and a land, you aren’t even playing the game.
Once you do start playing Magic with Dredge, though, it can be underwhelming. The deck has reliable access to eight creatures over the course of the
game, albeit with a lot of Bridge from Below upside. The four Narcomoebas and the four Ichorids shoulder a lot of the weight. If the deck’s
access to those creatures is disrupted, Dredge as a deck becomes far, far worse—its Cabal Therapies are unreliable, its Bridge from Belows are
blank, its Dread Returns are a joke, and so on. The deck is truly exponential, but there are several decks that can stop the Dredge avalanche at the
top of the mountain.
Finally, there are many more incidentally strong cards against Dredge in today’s metagame than there used to be. Moat, Humility, Ensnaring
Bridge, Peacekeeper, and Pernicious Deed are all very strong cards against Dredge, yet people aren’t playing them for their applications against
graveyard-based strategies—they’re playing them to fight Merfolk. Matches are a lot closer nowadays than they used to be, even though there
are far fewer Tormod’s Crypts and Leylines of the Void.
All those caveats aside, the deck is capable of some of the most degenerate turns in Magic. It can race pure combo decks while also being able to grind
out dedicated control strategies. It almost completely obviates opposing counterspells. Hymn to Tourach is rancid against it. Traditional damage-based
removal can be counterproductive in the face of multiple Bridge from Belows. In many games, you and your opponent are not playing the same game of
Magic. That cuts both ways, mind you, but many people don’t know how to approach a match against Dredge.
In the end, Dredge is a high-variance deck capable of overpowering any other deck in the format. The price of such power, though, is a degree of
consistency that you may well find to be incredibly frustrating. If you don’t mind matches where none of the games involve both players playing
Magic, this deck is for you. If you think you can cast a Brainstorm correctly, though, I still think there are better options out there.
Storm defines Legacy in a way that few other decks could ever dream of. This is the classic turn 2 or 3 kill deck. You cast a cantrip turn 1; you kill
them turn 2. If you want, you can cast a discard spell turn 2 and kill them on turn 3.
The fact that this deck exists and is as powerful as it is means that Force of Will decks are a necessary and important part of the metagame. Without
Force of Will decks, Storm and other Lion’s Eye Diamond decks would dominate. Yes, Zoo can play Mindbreak Trap and Gaddock Teeg and Ethersworn
Canonist, but unless it has all three in high quantities, that’s usually still not enough.
Force of Will decks seem to define the format based on their prevalence, but their presence is actually driven by the inherent power level of Storm
combo. When people have moved toward non–Force of Will decks geared toward beating Force of Will decks, Legacy has typically seen resurgences of
Storm combo. Even when people don’t put down their Force of Wills, Storm players have refined their lists to be able to beat decks that rely on a
wall of countermagic.
Storm is not an easy deck to play by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it may well be the hardest deck in Legacy to play at the highest possible
level. That said, it does have one major advantage over other Legacy decks: it’s all math. With Storm, every interaction can be considered within
the context of your plan. If they have Force of Will, it will mean -1 card and -2 mana and +1 storm, for instance. Will that prevent me from killing
them this turn? What are my odds of drawing a card that will allow me to win the game next turn through their theoretical Force of Will? What are the
odds that they have this theoretical Force of Will to begin with? All of this is math.
Depending on your perspective, that can be a deal breaker or a huge draw. If you’re the mathematically inclined sort or are just a complete
statistical savant, you can pick up Storm, study the two dozen cards that you care about in the format, and go out and crush a tournament. For the rest
of us mere mortals, it requires a lot of testing and training to develop mental shortcuts that operate on an entirely numerical basis. Absent that
innate ability or hundreds of games of experience, Storm probably isn’t the best choice for you.
- 1 Inkwell Leviathan
- 1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
- 1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
- 1 Terastodon
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 3 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur
Reanimator treads the middle ground between Dredge and Storm. While Dredge and Storm are both strategies that attack from narrow angles, Reanimator
presents a different dilemma to its opponent. Against non-blue decks, it can put a Sphinx of the Steel Wind or a Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur or an Elesh
Norn, Grand Cenobite into play on turn 2. In those cases, the non-blue player is very likely dead unless they have a Path to Exile or Swords to
Plowshares in hand or on top of their deck. Of course, the Reanimator deck could just have a Mental Misstep or a Daze as well, in which case
you’re cold as ice.
Against blue decks, Reanimator can play a number of games. It could jam its business spells into counters and hope to complete its game plan of
Reanimating a monster before its opponent’s interactive capability comes online. That plan occasionally works, but it requires a hand with
multiple counters and exactly one “bury” spell and one reanimation spell. More often than not, though, you’re not going to draw hands
The real problem with blue decks is when they know what they want to fight over. Generally, it makes sense to fight over the Reanimate, Exhume, or Show
and Tell, since Entomb and Careful Study are both card-disadvantageous. Since you only have eight of those spells, it can be difficult to either
resolve one or draw multiples and still be able to protect any of them.
One fairly strong strategy against blue decks is to play a longer game. If the game goes long and you don’t get Hymn to Tourached multiple times,
it is very possible to sculpt a hand that presents two or three threats with multiple counter backup. In those cases, you’ll probably end up with a
Jin-Gitaxias or an Inkwell Leviathan in play and end up winning the game.
So why play this deck over Dredge or Storm? It’s versatile. Reanimator can play as a blue control deck with a combo kill or a combo deck with
countermagic as protection. It rewards players that correctly assign their role in a matchup and play accordingly. It plays several of the most
powerful creatures in Magic, and it has the Brainstorm–Force of Will–Mental Misstep shell that is coming to define blue decks in Legacy.
Unlike Storm, this isn’t all math, but you’re still playing a blue combo deck with Brainstorm in it. The deck isn’t strictly worse than
Dredge or Storm, but instead occupies a metagame niche that tempers power with greater consistency and an ability to interact with its opponent. Plus,
you know, giant monsters and drawing eight cards a turn.
Painter is another blue combo deck with Brainstorm, Force of Will, and Mental Misstep. Unlike Reanimator, though, the game ends when it combos off. It
takes three mana more, but there is no sweating over whether they’ll cast a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and bounce your guy or have an Emrakul, the
Aeons Torn for your Show and Tell. They’re just dead.
The big draw to playing Painter is that you get to play four to seven Red Elemental Blasts and Pyroblasts. With the addition of Mental Misstep to the
format, jamming Goblin Welder and Grindstone are much less reliable strategies than they once were. Fortunately, since you have Missteps of your own,
you can fight off Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exiles that would otherwise break up your combo. Furthermore, your plan against blue control decks
is just to sculpt a hand with a ton of Blasts and Missteps and try to resolve either a Goblin Welder or a Painter’s Servant. Once you resolve a
Painter, you can name blue and turn all of your Blasts into Counterspell/Vindicate split cards for R as well as pitch lands and artifacts to Force of
Will. Having a Painter on blue will allow you to eventually force through a Grindstone and mill their deck into nothing.
Another appealing aspect of playing Painter is that your matchup with Merfolk is phenomenal. Since they have no actual removal, your Painters are never
in danger. You have a ton of Blasts that are live as removal or counterspells while also conveniently handling their only sideboard trump in the match,
which is Energy Flux.
Since you’re a blue combo deck with Misstep and Force, you’re also fairly well-positioned against combo decks like Storm. Both decks can
kill on turn 1, 2, or 3, but you have counters and more deck manipulation to their discard spells and rituals. A lot of matchups will be decided solely
on the basis of an opponent’s inability to kill a Painter’s Servant.
The major downside to playing Painter is that your matchup against BUG and Junk is pretty abysmal. Pernicious Deed is completely insane against you,
and barring a Painter + Blast or Force of Will, you’ll have a tough time winning against a competent player with a resolved Pernicious Deed. Hymn
to Tourach is also very strong against you, since your options in the early game are to either jam all of your best spells early and let them get
countered and killed, or you can hold your best spells, and sometimes they’ll get Hymned away. After sideboarding, it gets worse for you, since
they get to bring in Krosan Grips to make your Grindstone combo look embarrassing. This is where your Show and Tells shine. Of course, even your
sideboard transform isn’t that amazing given the broad adoption of more Jaces in blue decks everywhere. All in all, BUG isn’t a favorable
matchup, but it’s more than made up for by your huge positive margins against Merfolk, Storm, and Mono-Blue. If you want to play a blue combo
deck in Legacy that beats up on other blue decks, I can definitely recommend Painter. Make sure you take a bit of time to understand all of the Welder
tricks involved with this deck, though, as there are many.
- 4 Metalworker
- 1 Sundering Titan
- 4 Lodestone Golem
- 4 Wurmcoil Engine
- 4 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 1 Blightsteel Colossus
Finally, a deck that truly does not care about Mental Misstep! Metalworker strategies are a different sort of degenerate: they give their opponents the
first two turns of the game to play Magic, then slam the door in their face and go to town with a Wurmcoil Engine or a Myr Battlesphere. Unlike
Reanimator, Painter, and Storm, Metalworker decks are typically at the mercy of their opening hand. Because of the mana ratios required to make the
deck function properly, its hands often play out as an all-in aggressive deck with only one piece of real action. If its Wurmcoil Engine or Kuldotha
Forgemaster gets countered or Swords to Plowshares-ed, the deck often flounders about for a few turns while waiting for another piece of action to
On the upside, though, its action is all game-breaking. If you aren’t playing counterspells, you may end up watching in dismay as Lightning
Greaves allows a Metalworker to cast a hasty Kuldotha Forgemaster that calls up a hasty Blightsteel Colossus. On turn 2, mind you.
Ali Aintrazi’s brainchild is not without a late game, though. Its strength is clearly found within the first four turns, but it possesses the
ability to go infinite with a Metalworker, a Staff of Domination, and a few in-hand artifacts, drawing its deck and casting everything in
it—including Blightsteel Colossus—before tapping down all of its opponent’s creatures, gaining a million life, and going full infect
with the help of Lightning Greaves. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t draw Staff + Metalworker and has to settle for making a Lodestone Golem on
The deck is clearly powerful, but it suffers from two problems. First, it’s wildly inconsistent. It needs to draw the right mix of mana and
action while playing almost no deck manipulation. It plays near do-nothings in Voltaic Key and Lightning Greaves that can further clog up its opening
hands. Its action spells start at four mana, meaning that any artifact destruction or removal targeting Grim Monolith or Metalworker in the first two
turns can be devastating.
Second, it’s very easily hated out. Energy Flux is a fairly popular card nowadays that will only rise in popularity as mono-blue decks look for
answers to artifact-heavy strategies. BUG plays Pernicious Deed, which is a gigantic problem for this deck if it doesn’t already have a Wurmcoil
Engine or Kuldotha Forgemaster in play. Mono-Blue plays Counterspell, a card that Metalworker really doesn’t want to see given its low threat
As one of the only decks in the format nearly untouched by Mental Misstep, I’m excited to see where people can take Metalworker this weekend.
This archetype is nowhere near perfected, as you can see from the numbers in Aintrazi’s list. I haven’t played enough games with the deck
to suggest changes, but Ancient Tomb is a very underplayed card for what it does in this format. Although this deck is far from the best, it stands to
gain the most ground from innovation. After all, how many people do you think saw Karn Liberated coming?
What to Skip
In the spirit of telling you not to play these decks, I’m not going to give you lists. Instead, I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t play
these sorts of decks. If you still really want to play one of these decks at Providence by the end of the article, I’m sure you can find a list
somewhere. Below are five decks I would recommend not playing for Providence.
First up is what is bound to be the most controversial choice:
Yes, Counterbalance, the card that has torn up every American Legacy Grand Prix in which it was legal. My first Legacy love and one of my five favorite
cards in the history of the format. Sorry, it’s bad.
The Matt Eliases and the Kevin Binswanger are already scrolling down for the link to the forums to berate me, so I’ll talk to the rest of you
guys here: with the addition of Mental Misstep to Legacy, it has become impossible to build a good Counterbalance curve. Here’s what a good
Counterbalance curve looks like:
Seems reasonable, right? You have the Jaces and the Force of Wills up top; you have a few random threes that can be Ensnaring Bridges or Vendilion
Cliques or what-have-you, and you have whatever the crux of your deck is in the two-slot. The problem is that the one-slot has become overcrowded.
Before Mental Misstep, the way that Counterbalance decks reliably countered Jace, the Mind Sculptor was by stacking the Counterbalance trigger and
casting an Enlightened Tutor for Moat or Humility. Let’s say that’s still our plan. What are we playing in our one-slot?
Brainstorm, that’s obvious. Sensei’s Divining Top, duh. Swords to Plowshares, of course. Enlightened Tutor, clearly. But wait…
don’t we want to play Mental Misstep? Isn’t that a rather important card to have, given that the deck is incredibly vulnerable to Aether
Vial, Goblin Welder, Grindstone, Entomb/Reanimate, and Tireless Tribe? Besides all of that, aren’t we also very weak to our Sensei’s
Divining Top getting Misstepped?
Well, okay, so let’s cut the Enlightened Tutors for Mental Missteps. We didn’t need them anyway. So without those tutors, the random
enchantments don’t make any sense. We’re probably going to let Jace resolve a good amount of the time now, but that’s not the end of
the world, right? We can play four Jaces of our own, since we have a basic-heavy mana base that’s pretty good against Wasteland. We can even run
Counterspells to protect us from their Jaces and win the Jace war. It’ll mean cutting those Thopter Foundries and Swords of the Meek, but
that’s okay, since we weren’t going to find those with much consistency without Enlightened Tutor anyway.
We should probably figure out how we’re going to beat creature decks without Ensnaring Bridge, Moat, or Humility, though. Oh, I know! We can play
Vedalken Shackles. That’ll keep creatures from overrunning us in the midgame.
It can’t reliably counter everything in the format right now.
It’s impossible to build a good Counterbalance curve at this point in the format. You’ll either lose to Knight of the Reliquary or Jace, the Mind
Sculptor. Once upon a time, the format was all ones and twos, so building a Counterbalance curve was very easy. Since the format has slowed down,
curves can diversify casting costs. Counterbalance is not the catchall it once was.
Furthermore, Sensei’s Divining Top is one mana. Getting a Sensei’s Divining Top Mental Misstepped is a pretty horrible feeling, especially
since the deck is built to rely on Top for filtering and mana base consistency. If you play your own Mental Missteps, you’re actually making your
Counterbalance curve even worse. When Counterbalance decks played Spell Snare, at least the spell could counter a different casting cost when you cast
it than when you revealed it to Counterbalance. If you reveal Mental Misstep, you can really, really counter their one-drop, but their
two-drop is going to resolve.
It doesn’t affect the board.
Let’s say you don’t play Mental Misstep, instead opting for those Enlightened Tutors. Are you playing any actual counters besides Force of
Will in this Counterbalance deck? Because if you’re not, you’re probably still dead to an Aether Vial or a Mental Misstep. The issue with
Enlightened Tutor control decks is that they lean on their Enlightened Tutors resolving quite a bit. It would be one thing if you told me that your
plan against Merfolk is to play three Moats. It’s quite another to tell me that you have four Enlightened Tutors and one Moat. What’s
supposed to happen if they have Force of Will and Mental Misstep? Are you just dead? Or do you play countermagic on top of Counterbalance and Force of
Will? At what point are you just making a worse Mono-Blue list?
The problems don’t even end there. Let’s say you do manage to overload on cards to beat Merfolk. You’re splashing red for sideboard
Pyroblasts and you have a basic Mountain so your red source doesn’t get Wastelanded and you have a set of Enlightened Tutors to go get a Moat, a
Humility, and an Ensnaring Bridge, and you even have three Peacekeepers in your sideboard as well. I believe you when you tell me that you beat
I now do not believe for an instant that you can beat Mono-Blue, Reanimator, Painter, or BUG. To reiterate my point:
I am not saying that Counterbalance lacks the tools to beat any given deck—it just lacks the space to play all of them.
People build Enlightened Tutor decks as narrow, permanent-based solution-style decks. Why? Why not just play Counterspell and counter whatever you
actually care about? Why build your deck around a one-mana card in a format where everyone wants to play Mental Misstep? There have been three major
Legacy events with New Phyrexia. In Orlando, there were 27 out of 32 possible Mental Missteps in the Top 8. In Louisville, there were 24 Missteps. In
the Bazaar of Moxen, there were 15, although the Reanimator player should’ve had four.
This is the field in which you want to play a deck that revolves completely around the resolution of a one-mana card? I get that Enlightened Tutor ties
it all together and lets you cheat the numbers, but what happens when Painter snaps your Tutor off with a Misstep? That’s a pretty nice Energy
Flux, but you only play one…
Finally, if there’s a deck in Legacy slower than Mono-Blue, it’s Enlightened Tutor control. This deck would probably go to time in two-hour
rounds. It’s incredibly threat-light and counter-light, meaning that it will go through most of its deck before it can stick a win condition.
With Mono-Blue, at least you aren’t looking at six cards a turn and trying to piece together a system of levers and pulleys so that you can get a
Thopter Foundry into play. Really, guys, if you want to sit around and do nothing and pull wings off of flies and go to time every round, Mono-Blue is
a fine deck to do that with. Don’t play Counterbalances, and don’t build your maindeck around a bunch of conditional enchantments. You can
do better than that.
Goblins is dead. Mental Misstep killed it. The deck could never win a game where it wasn’t cheating on its mana costs, so the printing and
widespread adoption of a card that counters exactly the two cards that cheat mana costs for Goblins was bound to be bad for the deck. As it turns out,
it’s pretty unplayable. It’s abysmally slow, it’s still vulnerable to Hymn to Tourach, Dark Confidant, Wasteland, and Tarmogoyf, plus
now there’s even a blue control deck that can counter literally every single one of its spells. Goblin Ringleader is no longer the best draw
engine in Legacy, so there’s officially no reason to play Goblins anymore. Sorry, guys. Party’s over.
Noble Hierarch decks
The big problem with Noble Hierarch decks is that they have no good lines against any of the control or midrange decks. They don’t have many
answers to Dark Confidant, and the ones they do have cost one mana. If Dark Confidant survives a turn or two against a U/G/x deck, the game pretty much
ends. Similarly, if a U/G/x deck gets Hymn to Tourached, it has a very difficult time winning unless it resolves Natural Order on the following turn.
It has minimal countermagic to protect its Natural Orders from Counterspells out of Mono-Blue, meaning that it’s just a random U/G Tarmogoyf deck
against a deck full of Repeals, Spell Snares, Vedalken Shackles, Jaces, and incidental Ancestral Recalls. All of your cards are worse than theirs, and
you can’t outwait them or you’ll lose to their “Jace plus five counterspells” hand.
The problem is that Natural Order isn’t even the trump it used to be. People play Moat, Humility, Ensnaring Bridge, Llawan, and Peacekeeper to
beat Merfolk already—it’s just bad luck that all of those cards are perfect answers to Progenitus as well. An anecdote for those of you who
don’t quite understand the magnitude of the issue:
In Louisville, I was watching Orlando champion Chris VanMeter playing a Legacy feature match against a Noble Hierarch deck with Green Sun’s
Zeniths and at least one Dryad Arbor. It was a sideboard game that went pretty long, but Chris ended up winning. Afterward, it became clear that his
opponent was not playing Natural Orders. Chris, while de-sideboarding, flashed me two Llawan, Cephalid Empresses as he pulled them out of his deck.
“Better safe than sorry, right?”
If we can establish that you aren’t going to win every game in which you successfully resolve your four-mana sorcery, it’s probably fair to
also assert that you should just be playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor instead of Natural Order, since it’s really hard to lose after Jace resolves.
Once we have Jace over Natural Order, it becomes pretty easy to see how extraneous a lot of the cards in the deck are—“how many Noble
Hierarchs do you need?” “Is Green Sun’s Zenith just in there to get Tarmogoyf?” “Wouldn’t you rather just play Dark
Confidant and Hymn to Tourach?” And so on.
Moral of the story? Make sure all of your cards are worth at least a card. That’s where the format is right now.
I couldn’t write an article about decks for Providence without addressing the winning deck from Louisville. Chris approached Gerry and me before
the tournament, asking for our input on his list. We both looked it over with a bit of skepticism, since the numbers looked fairly untuned. The issue
with Chris’s deck is that I am fairly certain his game wins came from outplaying his opponents or getting them with Back to Basics. I do not
think that it could beat a Mono-Blue deck, and I’m dubious of its ability to beat Merfolk. As we saw, the deck is clearly insane against BUG, but
Back to Basics plus Misdirection will do that. In that sense, Chris clearly knew what he was doing.
When it comes to the Vendilion Cliques, Sowers of Temptation, Energy Fields, Sensei’s Divining Tops, Echoing Truths, Oblivion Stone, Cryptic
Commands, and sideboard Surgical Extractions, though, I’m a little more dubious of both the cards’ inclusions and the numbers on each. I
have no doubt that Chris is a strong player and an adept metagamer. One need only look at his Misdirections and Back to Basics to see a player who
knows what the best deck is and how to attack it. Still, his numbers on a lot of cards is suspect at best, and I think that ultimately this list is a
worse version of Mono-Blue. If I were speculating on cards from this deck, I wouldn’t go after Energy Fields. If this deck teaches us anything,
it’ll be a lesson in the power of Back to Basics and Misdirection. Beyond those two cards, though, I cannot recommend this deck.
And with that, I’m off. If you disagree with any of my assessments or just want a clarification on a point I made, I’d love to hear about
it in the forums. Good luck to all of you going to Providence, and I’ll see you there!