Six days until the next banned and restricted announcement.
Modern is anyone’s game. Bans, unbans, nothing. Even with the upcoming Pro Tour, I won’t begin to speculate on that one. I’ll just see what happens and move from there.
In Legacy, it’s a different story. True-Name Nemesis may prove to be something people no longer want in the future, but it hasn’t even come close to deserving action. Show and Tell wasn’t banned last time; it won’t be this time with similarly solid but non-dominant results.
The question is whether anything is coming off the list. Considering the chance of a Modern ban and the fact that Wizards likes to pair bans with unbans to balance give and take, the odds are even higher than normal.
I want to get a jumpstart on breaking things. However, I have limited amounts of time and desire to work on this, so I’m sticking with the ones I find interesting.
I’m going to stay away from cards that are solely free mana. It’s still a fundamental rule of Legacy that ramp comes at a price. You have a huge quantity of cards that require mana up front for long-term mana. You have Chrome Mox and Mox Diamond, which are strictly minus a card on top of the mana source. You have Dark Ritual and Grim Monolith that boost your mana immediately but are only temporary. Finally, you have lands like Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, and Gaea’s Cradle that have varying drawbacks or hoops to jump through and have the natural "one a turn" limit of lands to prevent chains. Moxen, Mana Crypt, and Sol Ring don’t have any of these drawbacks. You also have Black Lotus, Channel, and Mana Vault, which are temporary but in my mind are just a little too explosive to consider.
I’m going to stay away from cards I don’t think will make interesting decks. Tutors fall here, as they just make existing combo decks better or create toolbox hate decks. Strip Mine is another one of these cards since it’s just four better Wastelands. Eight copies of that card would make some different monocolored disruption decks better, but nothing really new springs up because of it. Yawgmoth’s Will is mostly just a better Ill-Gotten Gains or Past in Flames, and Goblin Recruiter is still stacking the same guys it was a decade ago. Mental Misstep and Survival of the Fittest also fall here as they were too recently banned. Most of the shells for these decks have not only been discussed but were tuned to the point that they won all the events and had to be removed from the format.
I’m also going to stay away from a few things that can be best described as "way too good." Bazaar of Baghdad would literally just make Vintage Dredge in Legacy. Some other things in this category are Time Walk, Time Vault, Mishra’s Workshop, and three-mana draw 7s (Timetwister, Necropotence, and Wheel of Fortune).
The cards I’m going to focus on all fall into the same category as Time Spiral—powerful but unique effects that were banned because they once pushed the limits of the format.
I’m going to focus on the deckbuilding aspect of these cards, not the ban or unban decision part.
In alphabetical order, we have the following:
The goal of casting Balance should always be to make it as lopsided as possible. The easy way to do this is play nonland noncreature permanents to come out ahead on the count when it resolves.
I’m not going to talk about Stax. Beyond any fundamental issues that archetype has, Balance isn’t especially great with your game plan. If you’re jamming Chalice of the Voids, Lodestone Golems, and Trinispheres, your opponent is going to have a bunch of cards, but they will all be dead ones. Who cares if they are in their hand or their graveyard?
(Note: Looking back after writing the other sections of this article, I think there could be a pseudo Stax Balance deck. It’s just a matter of finding the right noncreature threats and not playing traditional Stax cards.)
Here is the first thing I thought of with Balance:
Terminus has always been awesome in that archetype, but what if your Terminus was cheap when not miracled and interacted with noncreature decks? Against grindy decks that don’t fall to your soft lock, Balance erases all but the most severe advantages. Against combo Balance can still be used as a Mind Rot or even Mind Twist (or if they are one of the more bizarre decks like 12 Post, a Rain of Salt).
Enlightened Tutor also has natural synergy with Balance. Going down a card is almost a benefit when Balance makes you opponent match; the card Enlightened Tutor finds also doesn’t count for Balance; and if you need the Armageddon mode of Balance, you can find a Zuran Orb (presumably cards exist to set up a full Mind Twist as well). The Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek kill is a natural fit with Balance and also works in an Enlightened Tutor based list.
Balance might also make Chrome Mox a reasonable addition to the Counterbalance shell. Back in Extended these decks featured Thirst for Knowledge and a nonzero number of that card, but Legacy may or may not be the right place for that interaction. Of course, landing Jace, the Mind Sculptor a turn earlier is a bit of a big deal, and planeswalkers are also not enchantments or artifacts.
Note that while CounterTop decks are still lock decks like Stax their interaction with Balance is fundamentally different. When Stax doesn’t lock its opponent out starting on turn 1 or 2, it doesn’t do anything. A Balance won’t matter because you aren’t capable of performing actions that support it. With CounterTop, in games where you don’t have Counterbalance you still have a semi-functional deck. You can cast spells and actually do things that make Balance more powerful, like put more Divining Tops into play.
The other existing shell that may want Balance is Life from the Loam. While it may seem a bit counterintuitive to mix Balance with a card that generates card advantage, Loam decks are fundamentally attrition decks. All Balance does is let you trade resources, and in general pushing ahead on cards matters more when both players have fewer resources to work with. Going up three cards matters a lot more if both players have zero cards and options to begin with than when both players have full hands and are overloaded on plays to make.
There are also a lot of cards already in Loam strategies that put you down on cards that you can presumably make up by regrowing three lands a turn. Mox Diamond is the obvious one, but Faithless Looting, Crop Rotation, and Entomb have also made appearances. You can also Burning Wish for Balance if you decide just four isn’t enough or in the unlikely case that you don’t want to draw it maindeck. The classic Lands deck has Exploration as an enchantment that lets you empty your hand and set up a Balance Mind Twist that you obviously recover from faster thanks to Loam. Zuran Orb again makes a toolbox appearance, this time via Tolaria West. Balance also handles Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze, two of the biggest threats to Loam these days.
What about more all-in Balance decks?
There’s probably a fair version with Greater Gargadon. As mentioned above, you probably don’t want to be too heavy on Stax pieces, but I can see this being a Chalice of the Void deck. Balance would fill in as your cheap board sweeper that protects accelerated planeswalkers. This also sounds very similar to the Tezzerator shell, but you would have an actual good sweeper to tie everything together.
Some sample lists:
Besides Balance, what makes this better than current Tezzerator? Well, you have fewer blanks, more planeswalkers, and the enchantments Enlightened Tutor finds are actually things that KO people. I prefer red to blue here since Chandra’s 0, draw a card is better with Balance than Jace’s. Of course, that might just be trying too hard.
Two cards I would almost assuredly sideboard are Leyline of Sanctity and Armageddon. Leyline should be an obvious hate card that while not amazing does just enough versus discard, Storm, and Burn to make the cut. Armageddon is for matchups where the, well, Armageddon effect of Balance is the most relevant. Just stick a planeswalker, sweep the leg, and ride it to victory. If this ends up being especially relevant, you can play Crystal Vein as your Sol land of choice and find room for an Archeological Dig or two to maximize Balance on that front.
Where this deck likely fails is in keeping up card quantity. You have a lot of things that put you down a card but not a lot of ways to catch up after you set up a bit. I have Pursuit of Knowledge as the really spicy option that works with Balance, Sensei’s Divining Top and more fetch lands as the known solid one, Horizon Canopy to smooth flood, and Faithless Looting as a way to avoid grip-full-of-blanks scenario that plagues Tezzerator, but I’m likely missing something extremely obvious here. Like just playing blue for Jace, Tezzeret the Seeker, and Thirst for Knowledge.
You could also use a way to rebuy used cards in case you pitch a tutor target you later want. Again, I’m sure there is something obvious I’m missing that covers artifacts and enchantments.
Another shell that interests me is an eight Spirit Guide cascade deck that is a more reliable version of the Modern Restore Balance deck. Instead of drawing blank Restores, drawing an actual Balance is even better than drawing a cascade spell! The kill condition would either be suspend creatures or planeswalkers, with the big issue being whether you can play enough blue cards for Force of Will.
- 4 Elvish Spirit Guide
- 4 Durkwood Baloth
- 4 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Keldon Halberdier
- 3 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
I tried to play Force of Will but gave up when I realized the better plan is just casting Balance again the next turn. The one Restore Balance is a concession to the fact that you might need to actually cast Balance a ton of times in a single game to break a counter wall. If you really care that much, sideboard Ricochet Trap.
The fetch-dual part of the mana base is a port from Modern. You have the fetch land that matches your most used basics (red for suspend, white to cast multiple Balances or Ardent Plea) and one of each on-color dual and basic that it can find. The rest of it is a nice upgrade. Archeological Dig and Tinder Farm come from the old Standard Balancing Act lists, with Farm being the correct land from that cycle since it suspends Durkwood Baloth and provides colored mana for all three of your Balance effects (white for actual Balance and Ardent Plea, red for Violent Outburst).
Balance could get really old really fast, but it certainly brings a wealth of options to the table.
The classic card to discuss when the banned and restricted list comes up, or at least it is now that Land Tax is legal.
Black Vise seems a bit too situational to just play as a way to win. It requires an aggressive shell to support it, and very few of those actually exist in the current Legacy format.
In Burn and Zoo, Black Vise would fall into a similar category as Vexing Devil and Steppe Lynx—awesome on turn 1 and rapidly worse after that point. It might be enough to revive the hyperaggressive lists of these decks that were good about three-and-a-half years ago, but I would not default assume that Black Vise is what these decks need to trump Stoneforge Mystic or match the fact that blue has a better Wild Nacatl. Straight-up Burn may be a better home for Black Vise, as there are fewer creatures for them to burn Swords to Plowshares on.
The decks it would excel in play Stifle and/or Wasteland to cut your opponent’s ability to empty their hand. It’s less reliable than a creature in a Delver shell but enables more "turn 1 threat, get you" draws. RUG and U/W/R Delver probably don’t want this, but the U/R lists that surface every so often could use an aggressive edge. Ponder and Brainstorm also work well with Vise, allowing you to bury copies drawn too late to matter.
At worst, Vise would be a sideboard option against control. The control decks aren’t completely unable to handle the card, but they aren’t the best against it. Miracles has the ability to drop a quick Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top, but unless they find a Detention Sphere, they’ll run out of things to cast and eventually get locked in the Vise (in the above Balance scenario, they just need one good turn). The non Deathrite Shaman Stoneforge Mystic decks can race with a Batterskull, but that involves them keeping Mystic alive against a deck full of burn. Mystic into Jitte into True-Name Nemesis provides the same life gain but requires more cards. On the draw, starting to gain life on turn 4 might even be too slow.
Let’s get to the cool application.
When Past in Flames first came out, there was discussion of a list that plays Brain Freeze targeting itself to fuel the card. It ended up a little short on mana, but Frantic Search might be just the card to get it going.
Frantic Search doesn’t inherently add mana, but there is a bunch of easy ways to make it do so. Untapping City of Traitors is one. Goblin Electromancer and Helm of Awakening are others (Helm over Medallions or Cloud Key since it works on Past in Flames, Seething Song, and Frantic Search all the same).
A sample list for pure goldfishing:
Faithless Looting was the last card out, and it or Desperate Ravings may deserve a closer look. I opted for Grapeshot as the "kill them through an Eldrazi" card of choice since it is better versus Show and Tell, but Empty the Warrens is better against fair decks. Either way, I would load up on Empty the Warrens post-board.
After some quick goldfishing, this deck feels very similar to Modern Storm. If you untap with a Helm of Awakening, things get wild really fast. Helm has a one up on Goblin Electromancer in that it chains into additional copies very well.
Of course, feeling like Modern Storm means a few things. You’re going to have to battle hard through counters. You’re vulnerable to graveyard hate. You’re vulnerable to Abrupt Decay. You’re about half a turn slower than Ad Nauseam Tendrils and a full turn slower than The Epic Storm.
In its current form, this feels worse than traditional Storm, but it’s definitely awesome to goldfish with. Options to improve it include Burning Wish, more Empty the Warrens to up your fast-kill count, or Pyromancer Ascension to give you more threats that you can just run into a counter without fear. After seeing how good Helm is here, I could also imagine playing more than just four of that effect. Goblin Electromancer here we go! (Nightscape Familiar may be better since Helm makes it cost one less.)
There have been two top Gush archetypes in the past: tempo and combo.
The tempo one is easy. Delver decks would love a free draw 2. I think Quirion Dryad has long since been outclassed, but the deck could find room.
Legacy Storm right now is a "one big spell" deck. You can sometimes chain a bunch of rituals into tutors into a Tendrils, but that takes time. One of the big draws of the deck are the games where it just Duresses you, counts to seven mana, and draws its deck with Ad Nauseam. You have a set mana count to match a tutor (or mana and storm count in the case of Past in Flames or Ill-Gotten Gains), and you win once you reach it.
The Gush Tendrils deck would be more of a Pauper Storm deck. You just cast a bunch of spells. Maybe they counter a few. Maybe they don’t. At the end of the day, you will just end up with a bunch of cards, a bunch of mana, and a bunch of spells cast with an indeterminate amount of Tendrils copies on the stack. And certainly no Ad Nauseam.
Think pre Natural Order Elves. Less precision, more just doing things until they die.
A preliminary goldfish list:
I started with fewer than four Tendrils, but I just kept wanting to draw them. I eventually wanted more than four and added Empty the Warrens. I started on two, but I still wanted more. If I kept goldfishing, I might even want the full eight storm spells.
The non-Empty red may also be a bit too taxing on the mana. Chromatic Star can replace Manamorphose, and Rite of Flame’s slot could be up for grabs. Some Chrome Mox could work out, but I wouldn’t want more than two.
Also, if I remember correctly from the last actual ten-spell Tendrils deck I saw, this deck’s default is drawing first. More cards, more storm, more winning.
There are two really scary parts of Gush. The first is that it lets Storm skimp on lands because it is a land drop. The other is that it requires no commitment from the Storm player for a big gain. When your hand doesn’t work out after a Gush, you don’t lose anything. You actually gain position.
The second warning sign is that every game I drew a Gush was about a turn faster to kill than the ones I didn’t. For a version 1.0, this deck was quite the reason to be wary of letting Gush out to play.
Cheap one-card wins are one of the more dangerous types of cards on the banned and restricted list. While unbanning something like Sol Ring would drastically shift the format, the card would be used in a broad swath of decks. When you unban something like Flash that turns out to make things a bit too easy, you get Flash decks and decks that maindeck Leyline of the Void. See also the "ban Show and Tell" discussions that pop up every few months.
Aside: Looking at it, it’s eerie how close Show and Tell is to Flash. One part blue spell, one part eight-of blank monster (Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn versus Summoner’s Pact or Protean Hulk). The only things keeping it in the format are that Lotus Petal requires a specific land to Show and Tell on turn 1, Show and Tell for Emrakul gives them an untap step, and the "symmetry" of Show and Tell lets normal cards like Karakas and Detention Sphere fight it. Also, no Mystical Tutor.
Of the banned cards in this category, Hermit Druid is by far the weakest one left on the list. Untapping with a 1/1 isn’t especially difficult, but compared to check points like "control an artifact" (Tinker) or "have a creature in hand" (Survival of the Fittest), it’s a struggle. Lightning Bolt is an issue. Deathrite Shaman is an issue. Phyrexian Revoker is an issue. Even in the pre-Druid world, there are a lot of ways to stop the card from working.
Hermit Druid also has a higher number of dead cards required compared to other combos. The old Extended kill was Krosan Reclamation (Memory’s Journey as a near-strict upgrade), Reanimate or Exhume, Sutured Ghoul, Dragon’s Breath, and twenty power of creatures (Krosan Cloudscraper then, Tarmogoyf or Lord of Extinction now). That’s four dead cards and occasionally an extra turn if you don’t have the three mana for upkeep activate, Flashback Journey, draw and cast Reanimate. For the "best" kill, you need two or three Narcomoebas, a Dread Return, your kill creatures (likely The Mimeoplasm, Triskelion, and Lord of Extinction). That’s six or seven cards and a commitment to playing Cabal Therapy in case a piece gets stuck in your hand.
Even with all of this, I’m afraid of the card. Hermit Druid’s issue is that it easily integrates with other shells, creating very redundant or resilient decks.
Back in Extended, it was legal alongside Entomb. This made the plan of "play a bunch of reanimation spells" very legitimate, as you could draw Entomb or Hermit Druid to make them live. In the decade since, the creatures to get back have only gotten better. Back then it was Visara the Dreadful and Verdant Force as the top dogs to bring back. Neither of those holds a candle to Griselbrand; Terastodon; Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite; Iona, Shield of Emeria; or Inkwell Leviathan. Hermit Druid itself is also a great target for these spells. If it dies to anything but Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile, you can just Reanimate it and force them to have another kill spell.
- 4 Hermit Druid
- 1 Sutured Ghoul
- 1 Inkwell Leviathan
- 1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
- 1 Terastodon
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 1 Griselbrand
This deck is a fairly easy turn 2-3 goldfish of either an attacking Sutured Ghoul or Reanimated monster of choice. Of course, that’s kind of a silly statement considering almost any hand with a Hermit Druid kills on turn 3.
I’ve opted for the Sutured Ghoul kill here as the Reanimator backup plan that also takes up a bunch of slots. The Reanimator targets fill in for the "dead" creatures to power up Ghoul, so you are only adding three purely dead cards. While saving one slot compared to The Mimeoplasm kill might not seem like much, that’s one more Entomb target I get to play. When Griselbrand doesn’t perfectly fill in for Iona because your blue card count is low and you don’t have Daze, that slot makes a difference. You can also go off through things like Ensnaring Bridge or Moat by setting up a Memory’s Journey stack that gets back Terastodon and Sutured Ghoul.
I would strongly consider a full discard disruption suite here. Cabal Therapy and Thoughtseize can both target yourself to set up a Reanimate, and sacrificing Hermit Druid to Cabal Therapy lets you assemble any pieces of the combo that may be stuck in your hand post-activation. Seventeen blue cards is also a bit low for Force of Will. If you go with the discard option, you will want to cut Careful Studys for Gitaxian Probes to make your Therapys do actual work and because you can use your discard to fill in for Careful Study pitching a fatty.
I’m unsure on Lotus Petal versus Chrome Mox. Lotus Petal is typically better, but turn 1 Hermit Druid off Chrome Mox is an easier turn 2 kill if you have to pay "full price" of three mana with a Journey Flashback. If it turns out you want Chrome Mox, it’s also very possible that a split is still better since drawing multiple Chrome Mox is pretty miserable.
Animate Dead is a pretty cool one of here. You obviously want four Reanimates since it actually makes your Druid kill cheaper, but beyond that things are up for grabs. While Abrupt Decay has pushed the card out of the normal Reanimator decks, Hermit Druid means that you aren’t blanking any of their cards. There are definite reasons to Animate over Exhume or Reanimate, and when you are Memory’s Journeying, it might be nice to have the choice.
The alternate route is to take the fair road and play Green Sun’s Zenith. The jump from two mana for a Hermit to three is somewhat significant, but fortunately Deathrite Shaman and Green Sun’s Zenith for Dryad Arbor both solve that issue. You could also merge this list with something like David Gleicher’s Birthing Pod list. Either way, this list wants to be playing The Mimeoplasm kill. All three cards are perfectly reasonable to cast, if a bit expensive.
You could go with a Buried Alive + Reanimate kill using The Mimeoplasm; Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon; and any ten-power creature. Note that there might be something better, but all the typical combos don’t overlap between Druid and Buried Alive. Druid removes your deck for the Phyrexian Devourer +Triskelion + Necrotic Ooze combo (though Ooze is a nice backup Druid), and Buried Alive doesn’t kill when finding Angel of Glory’s Rise + Laboratory Maniac + Azami, Lady of Scrolls or The Mimeoplasm + Triskelion + Lord of Extinction. Note that this setup does fit in Narcomoeba reasonably well since Buried Alive for three of them does a good Spectral Procession imitation.
You could play a Hermit Druid + Life from the Loam + Punishing Fire shell that maximizes Faithless Looting to bin extra combo pieces. This deck could just play Tarmogoyf as a good card that turns on Sutured Ghoul and could get away with Mox Diamond for a turn 1 Hermit. The Druid part of the deck would be Memory’s Journey or Krosan Reclamation based in a very similar slow combo fashion to the Dark Depths combo in the current Loam lists.
Even if you beat the one-card combo, the other cards in a Hermit Druid deck are going to be capable of playing a completely different game.
Reforge the Soul is a card.
If you want to play Memory Jar, you need to take advantage of one of the unique upsides it has (besides costing five colorless instead of 3RR).
First of all, if you whiff with Memory Jar, both players get back their original hand. If your deck is a combo deck that actually has the ability to advance its board state between combo attempts, Jar gets much better.
Second, Memory Jar is a permanent. If there could be a deck based around looping Magus of the Jar, Memory Jar would do the same. Goblin Welder, Trash for Treasure, and Second Sunrise all work. Best of all, artifact isn’t a card type Deathrite Shaman applies to.
Finally, you can tap out for Memory Jar, pass the turn, and then untap.
I started with a Stax shell since it seemed to get the most out of playing Jar, passing, and then drawing seven, but it quickly became clear that it was a Stax deck that happened to have Jar in it and nothing else.
Looking for real inspiration, I came back to the original Broken Jar deck, or at least the 75% of it that isn’t also banned.
As with all the other ones, a mostly goldfish-oriented list:
In terms of speed, this is on par with current Storm decks.
My top choices for disruption in this shell would be Defense Grid and Silence. Duress doesn’t fit since it doesn’t protect your post Jar hands. You are probably short three or four interactive cards of a tuned deck, but finding room should be fairly simple.
This deck has Second Sunrise, but it isn’t so dependent on the card that it is a graveyard deck. You can just Jar into Jar into Jar into whatever and win. It also helps that you are recurring artifacts, which as per the above bricks Deathrite Shaman. That said, a lot of choices in this list have been made with that card in mind. Chromatic Star filters Dark Ritual mana into Sunrise mana and lets you immediately access Enlightened Tutor targets. City of Traitors’ "drawback" can be abused for +2 mana on a turn, as can Gemstone Mine or Archaeological Dig. Since Second Sunrise’s ban in Modern, Mox Opal went from being awkward with it to awesome, as Sunriseing an extra Opal copy leaves you with an untapped one.
I was skeptical of Liliana’s Caress / Megrim as a win condition over Tendrils of Agony, but it really fits here. You can Enlightened Tutor for it to quickly close; if you draw it too early, you can cast it before Jarring again; and it kills pretty easily. The second copy might even be excessive since it’s so easy to set up, or it could be replaced by a pure Regrowth effect in case it does get Duressed .
Grim Monolith is pretty awesome here. Similar to how I talked about playing Jar and passing (which this deck doesn’t do), playing Monolith and passing works perfectly to set up Memory Jar. It also turns on Mox Opal, which is a secretly powerful card waiting for a home.
The card I’m unsure of is Mox Diamond. It was included as more startup mana after a Jar activation, but it has seemed almost completely unnecessary so far.
Aside: There are some immediately applicable lessons here.
One is that Reforge the Soul is so close to being unreal. The only thing holding it back is that you currently have to miracle it in your draw step or their turn, when you can’t cast artifacts first or dump your ritual mana into sorceries.
The other is that the acceleration base of Lotus Petal, Grim Monolith, and Mox Opal is really powerful. Opal is one of the few cards that comes close to violating the mana-production rules I talked about early in this article. I’m pretty sure that some kind of shell that isn’t Stax currently exists to abuse it, but people have been so focused on making the deck mono-artifacts that they have missed it.
Mind’s Desire is unique among endgame storm cards. Many Vintage players have sandbagged a Force of Will against combo for the eventual Timetwister or Necropotence, only to die to six copies of Mind’s Desire.
Starting from TES (Legacy) and TPS (Extended circa Time Spiral), I tried the following list.
This deck was disappointing at best. Lion’s Eye Diamond is the best mana producer in the format, but getting it to work with a natural Mind’s Desire is a chore. The mana stumbled as a result of the shaky source and color requirements when LED was not useful.
(Sideboard has been truncated to the relevant Burning Wish targets for comboing.)
There are obviously a lot of experimental numbers here, but this deck felt fairly similar in power level to the Frantic Search list from before. The deck shared the Modern Storm sequence of two-drop, kill on turn 3. This list had a little more flexibility thanks to Burning Wish letting you fire off Empty the Warrens on turn 1 or 2 if needed.
The Desire kill counts were similar to the old Extended numbers. Storm of four or five is a crapshoot dependent on if you have a Wish in hand, but six or seven is probably a kill. The four Wishes, three Desires also felt like an appropriate amount of action.
I started with Gitaxian Probe to add storm but cut it since I found myself wanting more copies of specific cards. There may be a way to use it to round off the numbers, but that’s to be determined.
You may want one Underground Sea to make Tendrils of Agony easier to cast after flipping a fetch land off Desire. You probably want Chromatic Spheres on top of Stars given how awesome they are with Helm. You could go down the road of Future Sight plus Sensei’s Divining Top (with Helm) as your backup kill.
Looking at other shells, I don’t like Mind’s Desire with High Tide. One of the incentives of that combo is that you only need a High Tide, Time Spiral, and lands to kill them, in turn allowing for a large amount of card selection and the ability to win through heavy discard. Mind’s Desire pushes you in the opposite direction toward large hand sizes and more rituals. The Heartbeat of Spring / Mind’s Desire deck was a thing in old Extended under a similar concept to High Tide, but that deck was extremely slow and rode Moment’s Peace in a combat-intensive format.
There is probably a different angle to Mind’s Desire that I’m missing, but for now I feel like I’ve tried the most obvious and potentially broken ones and found them to not outclass existing options. Not that I wouldn’t play a copy of the card in most Burning Wish sideboards for Storm.
I don’t really think this card should be unbanned. It fits both the "free mana" and "way too good" criteria.
This is just an exercise in showing why because someone somewhere disagrees with it.
Thanks to Jarvis Yu for the original list, which also inspired this article. This is within ten cards of what he sent me.
This deck kills on turn 2 a lot.
When it fizzles, you typically just untap and keep going.
Even if this is as far as you can push the card, unbanning Tolarian Academy would immediately create a combo deck on par with the best that currently exist in the format.
To be fair, this deck only exists because Time Spiral is unbanned. Without that card, the deck would be a significant amount slower. Of course, if one of the two has to remain banned, I’m choosing Academy.
I don’t even want to think about what the card would do for Affinity. I don’t even want to think about how many more turn 1 or turn 2 Trinispheres would be thrown down by Stax players.
I someone says they want to unban Academy, they should be told to sit in the corner and think about what they just said. Remember, tell them you aren’t mad, just disappointed.
Ad Nauseam is a card that costs five mana.
A goldfish-only list to start:
Goldfishing shows this is a pretty solid turn 3 deck. The Infernal Tutors and Top are the obvious cuts for disruption.
On one hand, it sucks to draw Lion’s Eye Diamond mid Bargain and have to discard all your cards. On the other hand, you can just draw more cards. Lion’s Eye Diamond is also important since it lets you turn Enlightened Tutor into Dark Ritual after you have started Bargaining.
Renounce is the old-school tech. Zuran Orb is just better. Voltaic Key is no longer required to hit critical ritual mass, so you just don’t have enough random artifacts hanging around to make the extra two mana worth it.
Aside from adding some Duresses or Pact of Negations, I would consider a few things. There may be too few lands, and the additional lands could even be Sol lands. Peat Bog was the old standard and still might be worth a slot. You may also need some more post Bargain mana sources, but I’m unsure if you want Mox Diamonds or Cabal Rituals. Either way, you want two at most.
Show and Tell is also an option to pursue, and you have Griselbrand as a backup Bargain. This version would be to Tin Fins as Enter the Infinite Omni-Tell was to Burning Wish Omni-Tell. More copies of your kill-them Show target, and half of them are castable.
A sample list:
Academy Rector is another way people used to cheat Bargain into play, but I’m not sure it really cuts it in the 2010s. Phyrexian Tower and Cabal Therapy are nice sacrifice outlets, but it doesn’t really save you much mana. It’s a hoop to jump through, so you have to get something extra out of it. Of course, if you are Rectoring, are you actually better off getting Bargain than Omniscience?
Why would you choose either of the last two options over the pure combo list? Let’s answer that with a question—how does the first list win from a low life total? It could use a way to not die to Burn. Maybe more Infernal Tutors and Ill-Gotten Gains. Maybe a different and currently unused storm engine belongs here.
There are another seven cards that fell into this category I opted not to pursue to the same depth for time/interest reasons. Here are some brief notes on each of those.
The way this would change Elves is worth discussing since it makes Elves even more Gaea’s Cradle centric and less reliant on Heritage Druid plus Nettle Sentinel. There’s also the talk of "how busted this would make Enchantress," allowing Argothian Enchantress to untap Serra’s Sanctum and making Sigil of the Empty Throne go crazy. I’m pretty sure it also lets you go infinite with Words of Wilding and Shackles, which despite being a four-card combo is reasonable when you’re using Enchantress effects to draw your whole deck. It may also make the Words of Wind infinites easier, though Serra’s Sanctum alone may also do that.
Likely used with bounce lands (Simic Growth Chamber). This plus Amulet of Vigor and a bounce land builds a super Channel that makes two colored mana per life. I’m unsure what the kill condition would be.
The ability to ramp into Jace off any early drop being countered might be a little much, but unlike Vintage there aren’t a ton of freeroll mana sources to bridge into your really explosive threats when you don’t resolve a Drain. Drain might actually make control with threats that cost more than four a thing!
I honestly didn’t think much about this card. It might be good; it might not. I’m just not very interested in working with it.
There are just way too many shells for Skullclamp. Literally anything with creatures would consider playing it and probably be better off built for it. Also, too much of the card relies upon in-game interaction, which in turn makes testing the decks out significantly more difficult than most of the decks I brewed.
Just another draw 7. A slightly cheaper version of an existing effect, with the unique aspect being a strict drawback.
All this card adds is a miserable tournament experience due to drawn games. It’s not like Griselbrand doesn’t kill them just as easily in more cases.
I’ll leave you with one last decklist. This time it’s all legal and based off of ideas I worked on for the above lists.
If I could play more Helms, I would. It’s a rough first list, but the shell is definitely worth pursuing.