My article last week told you that there were three good decks to play. They were Stifle, slow combo, and Merfolk. I really should’ve seen Signal
Pest coming, though.
In all seriousness, though, I promise not to tell you that this week’s It Girl is bad. Quite the contrary, actually. If you want to win Dallas,
your best chance to do so is by shuffling up either my deck, Alex’s deck, or AJ’s deck.
A quick aside: even though I successfully predicted this week’s metagame, Bing Luke had the quote of the week in his last article. He wrote:
“The success of Junk (and my virtual loss to Doomsday) showed the inflection point in the mana curve is no longer two, but three. Knight of the Reliquary is a serious threat to the existence of Counterbalance, since it outclasses both Firespout and Tarmogoyf, two cards that previously were trumps against creature decks.”
My article from last week implicitly took this logic a step further. I want to make my reasoning explicit, though.
Because the format has shifted from a two-drop format to a three-drop format, it means that Counterbalance is bad and Stifle is good.
These two elements have their own cyclicality as well. The Stifle decks operate optimally off of two lands, making their curve very vulnerable to
Counterbalance decks. The Stifle decks prey on three-heavy Knight of the Reliquary and Green Sun’s Zenith decks. Once Stifle does well enough,
Counterbalances and basic-heavy mana bases will return to overthrow Stifle decks. Of course, a basic-heavy deck already exists in the metagame, but I
think there’s room for more of them.
A telling feature of the Legacy metagame is that Daze has gone from awful to awesome. From the day after Columbus until just after Indianapolis,
Counterspell was much better than Daze. This tells us a few things:
First, it means that the format is faster. If you have time to hold mana up on turn 2 and your opponent isn’t going to kill you for wasting two
mana in the early game, the format is pretty slow. As a corollary, it means that the format now is more proactive than reactive. If people are rapidly
advancing the game state, mana becomes more valuable. As a result, it’s riskier nowadays to pass your second turn to hold up a Counterspell.
Second, Counterspell’s presence means that Wastelands and Stifles are being underplayed. Once there are a significant number of decks pressuring
opposing mana bases, however, the format speeds up. Once decks aren’t guaranteed to always hit four mana in a timely fashion, they have to do
more with less mana.
Finally, the presence of mana disruption raises the value of Daze. How often does Daze have to “hit” in order to be “worth a
card?” 70% of the time? 80%? 85%? When coupled with Stifle and Wasteland, Daze tends to be worth a card quite a bit.
If you present a proactive game plan that forces your opponent to use all of their mana to answer it, Daze’s stock goes way up. Since the best
way to protect a proactive game plan that uses all of its mana each turn is with Daze, its resurgence should come as no surprise. Eighteen copies of
the card in the Memphis Top 8 is no joke, and anyone considering playing a slow deck in the next few weekends would do well to understand its
As I wrote last week, the deck to play in Memphis was Team America.
I don’t think that truth has changed much for Dallas, although it has gone from Just Another Deck to The Deck to Beat along with Merfolk. Its
mixture of mana disruption, countermagic, cantrip density, and card advantage spells gives it a ton of play against Legacy’s broad metagame. It
can interact meaningfully with every deck and plays two of the best threats in the format.
I’ve often told people that Team America is a deck filled with one-for-ones, two-for-ones, and eight cards that usually kill them, and that the
trick is to figure out how to make trades that debilitate the opponent the most. Your eight cantrips allow you to get rid of cards that won’t be
worth a card in interaction value. Your Hymns to Tourach, Predicts, Engineered Explosives, and solo Sylvan Library let you get ahead, and your eight
creatures kill them.
Simple, right? Well, not quite.
A common criticism of the deck is that it plays a bunch of bad cards. No argument there – there are definitely more objectively powerful cards
than a two-mana Force Spike, a four-mana Dark Banishing, and a one-mana do-nothing. Of course, those cards’
power is very situational, and the deck relies heavily on interaction value. Instead of looking at them in a vacuum, it’s important to see them
in the context of a matchup. Let’s take Goblins as an example.
When people ask me what beats Team America, they always suggest Goblins as a potential predator. I hate to disappoint the Julian Booher of the world,
but Goblins is a very good matchup for the blue, green, and black. To understand why, let’s look at all the ways that Team America can interact
with a Goblins deck.
On turn 1, Goblins will likely activate a fetchland if they have one and play either Aether Vial or Goblin Lackey. If Team America is on the play with
a Stifle, they can often crush the Goblins player on the spot by using Stifle as a one-mana Stone Rain. Other times, their Goblin Lackey can get Dazed
or Snuffed Out. At this point, Team America has Ponder and Brainstorm as redraws to its Snuff Outs against a Lackey opening.
Aether Vial is by far the most problematic card for Team America in Goblins. Its ability to negate the relevance of Team America’s Stifles and
Wastelands as directed against Goblins’ mana producers is key to victory. Here’s why:
By having a fetchland-dual land mana base, Goblins gains value against green decks by gaining access to Perish and Warren Weirding. On the other hand,
they lose value against Team America by giving Team America the ability to Stifle and Wasteland them off of their third and fourth mana sources. Since
Goblins as a deck relies heavily on getting to three mana and resolving its Goblin Matrons and Goblin Ringleaders, it’s fairly devastating to
keep Goblins stuck on two mana.
Even if Goblins gets to develop its mana base and resolve a Goblin Warchief on turn 3 or 4, Team America will still have seen a fair number of cards
with its Ponders and Brainstorms. If it has drawn any of its Go for the Throats or Snuff Outs, it can halt Goblins’ momentum by killing the
Warchief immediately. If it hasn’t found any removal, it can still Daze or Force of Will the Warchief.
The worst-case scenario for Team America would be Goblin Ringleader or Siege-Gang Commander resolving. Even then, Team America has Stifle as an out to
neuter those cards’ power. Given that Goblins got to four or five mana, it seems plausible that Team America hasn’t cast any Stifles up to
that point in the game.
Of course, the big fulcrum of the matchup is Team America’s creature base. Since Goblins typically can’t answer three to four Tarmogoyfs or
Tombstalkers over the course of the game, it’s going to lose to one of them. A common out against a large creature is Gempalm Incinerator, but
Incinerator is only an answer if Goblins has built up a critical mass of resources. When Team America has traded four of its cards for four Goblins,
Gempalm Incinerator is going to have a tough time lighting up a 5/5.
Now, let’s look at Team America’s matchup against the other major Aether Vial deck in the format, Merfolk. Same basic ideas: eight
colorless lands including four Wastelands, four Aether Vials, aggressive strategy, tribal linear, and so on. But it’s Team America’s worst
matchup. In fact, Alex “King Fish” Bertoncini accounted for my only Legacy losses in Memphis, beating me in round four of the Swiss and in
the quarterfinals of the Top 8. Why is the America-Merfolk matchup so much worse than the America-Goblins matchup, though?
The biggest difference is that Team America’s Stifles are terrible against Merfolk. Whereas Stifle is one of Team America’s best spells
against Goblins, it’s the first cut against the fish. Because Merfolk can cast all of their spells without caring about Team America’s mana
disruption, Team America has to lean on its removal spells that much more.
Since Team America has to use its mana to keep attackers off of the board, its Hymns to Tourach get much weaker, since there isn’t often an
opening to cast them. Same goes for its Predicts. Without its ways to get ahead, Team America has to rely on drawing multiple removal spells, perfect
mana, and multiple threats early in the game if it wants to win. The matchup isn’t unwinnable, but it’s definitely one of the worst ones
So how can a Goblins player improve its matchup against Team America? If we understand what makes the Merfolk matchup so good for the fish, we would
look to diminish the vulnerability of the mana base. The logical first step is to go monocolor:
In exchange for forgoing a splash color, this deck gains a level of color consistency unrivaled in Legacy’s top tier of decks. Stingscourger will
generally keep a Tombstalker off of the board for two turns, which is a bit less exciting than just Edicting it away forever. In exchange, though, the
mana base allows you to actually cast your spells. It may not seem revolutionary, but in this new era of Daze, Stifle, and Wasteland, it’s a
luxury that many people will overlook to their peril.
Since people are playing greedy mana bases like mine (yup, that really just is zero basics!), Blood Moon is very likely a strong sideboard option. When
combined with Pyrokinesis and Stingscourger, a Moon effect provides a realistic answer to cards such as Knight of the Reliquary and Terravore.
Since black is out of the picture, Cabal Therapy is no longer an option as the anti-combo card of choice. What if, instead, Goblins were to play
Pyrostatic Pillar? It would also function rather well against the cantrip-heavy blue decks that seek to bury it under very specific answers.
What if we take this whole concept one step further, though? Instead of futzing around with Goblin Lackey and Mogg War Marshal, surely we can make a
more straightforward red deck that just, you know, kills them.
Given Counterbalance’s fall from grace, I truly believe that there is room for a Goblin Guide deck in the current Legacy metagame. Without
everyone’s favorite enchantment-based counterspell running amok, Flame Rift might just have a shot in Legacy. Patrick Sullivan probably
knows just how incorrectly I built it, but the concept is there: light ‘em up!
Team America has no good ways of interacting with Mono-Red. It has six removal spells of any sort, and Snuff Out is uncastable unless they’re
being ironic about it. It has no way to gain life and will consistently get domed for six with Price of Progress. It plays eight counters and presents
a relatively glacial clock against Mono-Red.
Don’t despair, though, Team America aficionados: your time is far from over. Fetchlands and dual lands will not disappear overnight, and the deck
is not bad just because I’m shipping two decklists with a combined thirty-four basic Mountains. People will still play combo; people will still play
three-color mana bases; and people will still play tons of fetchlands in their two-color decks. This is still very much on my shortlist for this
weekend, and I expect it to put up another strong finish deep in the heart of Texas.
See you in Dallas!