Constructed Criticism – The Struggle Against Mental Misstep: Hive Mind

The effects of Mental Misstep have been far-reaching, and we are still feeling it. People have started fighting back in a variety of ways; one of which is the Hive Mind deck that took down SCG Open: Seattle.

Legacy: Magic’s Final Frontier. Stardate: (Unknown). It’s been said before that you can bring any powerful strategy to a Legacy tournament and do well with it, so long as you are a perfect pilot. Somehow, that sentiment doesn’t feel true anymore. Mental Misstep has changed everything we’ve come to know about Legacy, and not necessarily in a good way. It has warped the format into a grizzly battle between midrange decks, with Jace, the Mind Sculptor becoming even more powerful than he was before (insert evil laugh). Today we’re going to talk about how Mental Misstep is taking Legacy by storm, and what we can do to combat it (and also utilize it).

Before the release of New Phyrexia, most people were under the impression that Legacy was (by far) the most fun tournament format in Magic. While you can argue the point until you’re blue in the face, I don’t think you can really argue against the fact that the format is much less fun now than it was before the printing of Mental Misstep. The card singlehandedly infringes on entire strategies, often nullifying them completely. It is also an excellent protection spell for various monsters like Knight of the Reliquary and Tarmogoyf, since the format’s go-to removal spell has been Swords to Plowshares for quite some time. Mental Misstep is a diverse and efficient answer to many of the format’s questions. The new question: How do we beat Mental Misstep?

With Legacy sitting at such a low curve due to power levels (and ultimately the power creep), everyone is trying to make their deck more efficient. This means jamming cards in your deck that cost less and less mana, ultimately turning Mental Misstep into the powerhouse card of the format. While not every deck in Legacy needs to play Mental Misstep, the fact remains that all of them can play Mental Misstep, and very rightly many of them should at least sideboard it. The card is really just that good! If your deck folds to opposing Swords to Plowshares, why not play a few? It could mean the difference between winning and losing a battle over your Knight of the Reliquary. Even if you draw multiple Mental Missteps, it isn’t like you’re going to run out of targets for it. Everyone plays one-drops. 

When building your deck, Mental Misstep has to be a factor on what cards you play and what cards you don’t. You have to have a very good reason for not playing Mental Misstep yourself, but there are cases where it is correct. The more aggressive your deck is, the better Mental Misstep becomes.

With the format as fast as it is, decks can’t afford to be slow. No one is going to play Tolarian Winds in a Dredge deck. Combo decks need their early combo enablers to resolve. Aggro decks need their Wild Nacatl and Grim Lavamancer to stick. Even Sensei’s Divining Top, once heralded as the best card in Legacy, has fallen off the map. Mental Misstep has broken the format, and we have no way to fight it other than our own Mental Missteps.

Or do we?

This deck gets around Mental Misstep so well it actually seems like a bad joke. Sure, you have some things that can be countered by Mental Misstep, but you are in no way relying on those cards to win you the game. While they can help draw you out of a mana-glut, or dig for your combo, a Mental Misstep does not break your strategy in half, unlike most of the other decks in the format. Hive Mind is a neo-Generation combo deck focused on weakening the strength of Mental Misstep on its combo, and other combo decks will have to undertake a similar evolution to survive. Decks like Reanimator and Ad Nauseam need early enablers to set their deck in motion, and often they need to resolve these on turn one in order to be fast enough. Hive Mind does not have this problem.

Legacy is a lightning-fast format, and this deck does not shy away from the early kills. Being able to kill an opponent as early as the second turn, Hive Mind also provides some amazing backup in the form of Pact of Negation as a secondary Force of Will proxy. Additionally, you can use Pact of Negation in conjunction with Hive Mind to kill your opponent, so long as you cast another random spell like Ponder or Brainstorm first.

The above list doesn’t play Mental Misstep in the maindeck, but that is mostly because it is not affected by a lot of cards that cost one mana. Spell Pierce and random discard spells are pretty much all you have to worry about, at least in the first game. After the first, people will bring in all sorts of goodies to keep you from comboing, and Mental Misstep plays a great role in defending you. Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast are the main offenders, and you can use Mental Misstep to great success against these two cards.

In the Seattle SCG Legacy Open, Ben Swartz didn’t lose a match with Hive Mind. He credits the list to fellow grinder Tom Ma, who won a Legacy Open with the deck a few months ago. No one has really taken the deck seriously until now, which is why he was able to prey upon the tournament so easily, along with two other competitors in the Top 8. People are starting to realize that they have to evolve to combat the decks abusing Mental Misstep, and if they don’t they’re going to lose. When people want to play a combo deck, they should do everything in their power to keep Mental Misstep from being a problem. If they don’t do that, they will probably lose more than a few games relying too heavily on crutch cards that cost one mana. You shouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight, and you shouldn’t play Glimpse of Nature in a world full of blue decks.

What I’ve noticed with the deck is that there aren’t a lot of negotiable slots. The decklist is incredibly tight, and I’m honestly not sure where to go from here. A lot of lists on Magic Online don’t play Summoner’s Pact, but I think the card is awesome going forward, since you can’t pay for it in the mirror (without significantly altering your mana base). The sideboard cards do exactly what you need them to do, which is “not much” when you’re playing such a linear combo deck, but they all have their uses.

While I’ve been playing with the deck some on Magic Online, I can definitely see a few weaknesses, but people aren’t exploiting those just yet. While some people may incorporate certain awkward cards like Angel’s Grace into their sideboard, it will be few and far between. However, if you want to beat Hive Mind, Angel’s Grace is definitely where you need to start. Split second is quite the ability in such a hostile environment and will leave them feeling breathless when you cast it on your upkeep with the Pact triggers on the stack. 

Speaking of Angel’s Grace, here’s an update to an oldie (but goodie) that I’m sure people will recognize. DaKriket is an old-school grinder on Magic Online, and has been tearing up Legacy lately with a variety of decks. My personal favorite thus far:

I think this version of Natural Order definitely has something going for it. With an increase in the popularity of green-based decks, Bant might be the colors to revert to. Swords to Plowshares does give them a bit of life, making it harder for your Progenitus to race, but killing their best creature guaranteed is quite a bonus when compared to Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt does have its applications, but it might not be good enough.

Knight of the Reliquary is a new addition to the deck and one I’ve been trying to incorporate for some time, but I’ve been doing it all wrong. Karakas and Dryad Arbor should be the only lands you’re digging up as your special lands. I was toying with Wasteland and Sejiri Steppe, but those proved to make some draws clunky and force you to mulligan. This version is much more streamlined. I could see trying to jam another Knight of the Reliquary into the deck, since he’s such a powerful card, but it probably isn’t necessary. Having the full complement of Green Sun’s Zenith lets you play a virtual five, and you have to balance your utility targets with your total number of blue spells to keep Force of Will online.

Qasali Pridemage and Rhox War Monk were both really sweet cards I missed from the Bant version of Natural Order, and this list brings them back with a vengeance. I’ve had my 2/3 Tarmogoyf blown up a lot with Lightning Bolt, but having an alternate, larger creature to fetch up that makes it impossible to race you is quite powerful. Trygon Predator might be one to watch out for, but Qasali Pridemage is awesome at what he does, and Trygon Predator can be glacially slow. For now, he’ll stay on the sidelines.

For whatever its worth, I still hate Daze in the deck. It does help (on occasion) to protect your combo, but it feels like you’re playing with a tempo card in a combo deck, which is not necessarily a good thing. I’m not sure what could be better in its place, so it will have to do for now until we can find something better. The range of free spells in the format is limited, and I don’t think Thwart will do us any good (especially seeing as it isn’t on Magic Online yet).

The sideboard is there to do what a sideboard does best: bring in the game-breakers. Some decks really like having access to a versatile sideboard. You can change your strategy based on what you’re playing against, and you can be tricky with a lot of singletons, keeping your opponent off balance. This list just goes straight for the throat, jamming all of the format’s strongest hate cards into one tight little package.

Angel’s Grace is obviously for Hive Mind but can double as an awesome temporary answer to any other one-shot combo decks. Shutting down the combo deck that recently won a major event is nothing to scoff at, no matter how bad it looks on paper. I’m willing to bet that even the better Hive Mind players will be playing Angel’s Graces of their own, specifically for the mirror. This, in turn, might eventually force others to splash black for Inquisition of Kozilek, or just play Vendilion Clique for the mirror. I’m okay with either.

The Leyline of Sanctity plan seems pretty good against decks full of discard, and randomly amazing against combo decks like Goblin Charbelcher. Having an answer to an entire burn deck is something you might need, since they’re usually a turn faster than you. Price of Progress can still kill you, as can their creatures, so make sure to play around it. In a pinch, you can also use Swords to Plowshares on your own Tarmogoyf, padding your life total from lethal burn (nice Healing Salve).

The Leyline of the Void plan against Dredge (or Manaless Dredge) is quite the hoser. The mana-less versions have virtually no outs, since they can’t really cast spells (hence the name). I’m positive that’s why these were chosen over the various other graveyard hate cards, seeing as the rest just don’t get the job done like you need them to. Leyline of the Void has always been the dagger to the heart of Dredge, and I’m hoping that Dredge just falls off the face of the earth. I’ve always hated the deck, and a mana-less version that opts to draw as their discard outlet just makes me hate it even more (even though it was genius). They found a way to get around Mental Misstep, but at the cost of their speed. Like Hive Mind, they were a combo deck that evolved to get around Mental Misstep.

Terastodon is what it is and should never be forgotten. He’s a great monster that can get you out of plenty of jams, and there really is no other green creature quite like him. In an aggressive pinch, you can always just make 18 power, which is nothing to sneeze at. One thing Legacy brings to the table is diversity, and you can bet that someone is going to try to lock you out with Enchantress, or ramp big with Cloudpost. Terastodon just singlehandedly ruins their party.

If you don’t want to be absolutely dead to an Angel’s Grace, here’s a fun side project I’ve been working on. I’m sure I haven’t built the best list, but this deck is a lot of fun and can kill people out of nowhere. You also get to play with a lot of Jaces!

As I said, this is definitely a work in progress. It could be that this is an inferior version of Hive Mind, but a lot of the draws from Hive Mind can be quite miserable, and this deck mulligans much better. You can even play the control role for a little while until you find your combo. Jace is quite the workhorse in this deck, and your faster draws will allow him to become your draw engine.

Maybe I’m just trying to force Splinter Twin into too many formats, but the combo can be absurd at times. Deceiver Exarch is also surprisingly good at playing defense, protecting Jace from Wild Nacatl and whatnot. I’ve also won several games just by beating someone to death with a Vendilion Clique with counters on backup to protect him.

Lightning Bolt has felt fairly unimpressive; hence the addition of Fire/Ice. Tapping a land on the second turn can always be sweet, drawing a card in the process. This, in turn, makes your Mental Missteps better, since they won’t be able to cast a two-drop if you’re on the play. Fire can be devastating against anyone playing Noble Hierarch or Dark Confidant, or just kill an opposing Vendilion Clique. There are plenty of uses for the card, and helping to tap out their white mana so they can’t use Swords to Plowshares is just a sweet addition.

One of the coolest things I’ve noticed in Legacy is how often people use Mental Misstep as a way to counter Swords to Plowshares, protecting their creatures. That got me thinking about how I could use this to my benefit, since free counterspells are quite good in combo decks. If Mental Misstep put an end to most of the shenanigans people put you through, surely Force of Will and Pact of Negation can take care of the rest.

I might recommend playing another Pestermite or two if you can fit them in. You don’t want to be randomly dead to a sideboarded Surgical Extraction. While Pestermite is slightly more vulnerable to removal, having the additional target for your excess Splinter Twins is nice. 

If you become bold, an interesting step might be to turn this deck into a RUG Control deck, using Tarmogoyf as an early beater. If they use up all their removal on Tarmogoyfs, that could leave you home free with Exarch or Pestermite. Tarmogoyf also plays very well alongside Jace, since he is quite the formidable wall. I’ve also thought about trying to go for the Twin-Blade approach, since the version from old-Standard was quite powerful.

If anyone has suggestions, or has tried anything like this before, please let me know. I’m looking for something spicy for this weekend’s Magic Online Championship Series tournament. I’m open to all ideas, whether it be cards or decks. I hope you enjoyed. As always…

Thanks for reading.

strong sad on MOL