Creativity Isn’t Dead

Two-time SCG Legacy Open finalist Drew Levin highlights some interesting decks from two major Legacy events that took place this past weekend. Get some ideas for this weekend’s SCG Legacy Open in Denver!

This past weekend had two major Legacy tournaments. In Indianapolis, over 350 people gathered at Gen Con to play in the Legacy World Championship. Meanwhile, over 350 of the best Magic Online players gathered at their laptops and desktops to play in the Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS). Although the two Top 8s look very different, the same card won both tournaments: Show and Tell.

There are a few differences between the two winning lists.

The Gen Con winner played good old-fashioned Sneak and Show with plenty of Emrakuls, Griselbrands, and a reasonable backup plan of hard casting Sneak Attack and sending monsters into the breach like they did back in 1998.

The MOCS winner played a more focused Show and Tell centric deck. He had multiple ways of winning once Show and Tell resolved, but winning relied on actually resolving the card Show and Tell. To this end, he played two Personal Tutor and four Burning Wish, playing an effective nine Show and Tells in his deck.

MOCS winner jacksad played two Griselbrand, two Emrakul, and four Omniscience as his suite of game-winners to cheat into play with Show and Tell. For those of you unfamiliar with how Omniscience kills people, the common loop is as follows:

Step 1: Get Omniscience into play.

Step 2: Cast Burning Wish, getting Petals of Insight.

Step 3: Cast Petals of Insight at least as many times as they have points of life, eventually stacking your deck so that you draw a Burning Wish. In theory you can also draw a Force of Will and a blue card, but they would have just Forced your Show and Tell or Burning Wish if they had one, so I wouldn’t be too worried about finding a perfect three-card stack if I were you.

Step 4: Resolve Petals of Insight as Ancestral Recall, drawing Burning Wish, which you then cast to get Grapeshot to point (along with its many, many storm copies) at your unfortunate opponent.

Which Deck Should I Play?

How can we evaluate which Show and Tell deck is better to play at the moment? We can start by breaking them down into their components.

On a mana base level, Sneak and Show is slightly more resilient and more explosive, but it loses out on versatility. Sneak and Show has four basics to Omni-Tell’s two and has five ways to add mana without using a land to Omni-Tell’s two. Omni-Tell, however, has a third color and sideboards board sweepers that Sneak and Show cannot, giving it the capacity to interact meaningfully with swarms of creatures.

On a game plan level, Sneak and Show is faster and has more ways to reach its end game, but its end game is less powerful than Omni-Tell’s end game. It is worth noting that the stock Sneak and Show list has adopted Eli Kassis innovation of Overmaster as an additional cantrip and proactive piece of protection. If you’re playing against the deck, you should be prepared to beat Overmaster into Show and Tell.

On a tactical level, Sneak and Show can resolve one of eight key cards that gets the ball rolling on getting monsters into play and attacking with them, but that’s all it can do to win. The deck is ice cold to a resolved Ensnaring Bridge in game 1, for instance. Same with Humility. Same with Peacekeeper. You get the idea. It has to attack to win.

On the other hand, Omniscience has a slower path to a narrower end game—it has to resolve Show and Tell at some point during the game—but once it resolves its key spell, it can beat a much wider range of cards. It doesn’t have to attack to win, for instance. It is trivial for the deck to beat a Karakas. It is probably much worse against a Qasali Pridemage than Sneak and Show, but it far better against a Terminus.

This means that Sneak and Show is likely to be better against RUG and matchups where speed is more important than resilience or interaction, but Omni-Tell is going to be better in longer games and in matchups where connecting with an Emrakul or a Griselbrand does not guarantee victory. Being able to kill without attacking is very powerful in a metagame where the dominant control deck is trying to play a proactive answer-based game.

The U/W Control deck wants to float Terminus with Sensei’s Divining Top to lock out your attacks, resolve Counterbalance to lock out your spells, and stick Humility to lock out your attacking end game.

Having a plan that doesn’t ask you to attack is important. Omniscience and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are two strong strategic avenues that beat Humility. Given that the Omniscience deck has to cast Show and Tell in order to win, it must also be able to beat a Humility that comes into play off of the Show and Tell. Given the power level of the U/W Control deck and the uniform construction of the deck’s sideboard to include Humility as an "answer" to Emrakul/Griselbrand decks, I would rather play Omniscience than Sneak and Show right now.

If I were to play U/W Control right now, I would be sideboarding four Meddling Mage for the Show and Tell matchup. Leaning on Humility to beat a Show and Tell is just asking to lose to Omniscience. Playing Meddling Mage puts you in the correct role in the matchup—that of the aggressor. Trying to answer every element of Omniscience’s end game is a losing battle, but attacking their critical card while also attacking for two puts you in control of more games.

Another point in favor of Meddling Mage is that U/W Control is traditionally light on two-drops, which is problematic when your ideal Counterbalance hit is a two-drop that counters Burning Wish. Of course, you’ll need to be able to protect your Mages from the Massacre that jacksad’s list has waiting in the wings, but I’d rather Mage their Show and Tells than wait for them to assemble Show and Tell plus Omniscience while I sit on my worthless, humiliating Humility.

The Best Legacy Deck Nobody Has Heard Of

Perhaps you’ve heard of Andrew Cuneo? Better known by our younger generation as Gainsay on Magic Online, he was one of the original CMU players that defined the game in the early 2000s. He made Top 4 of a Team Pro Tour that featured teams led by Budde, Mowshowitz, Nassif, and Forsythe. He is a masterful deckbuilder that understands the game on a level that few others ever will. To wit, his list from the MOCS:

Don’t wrinkle your nose just yet. This is no ordinary Enchantress deck. This is a well-built machine that wastes nothing.

His engine is familiar: Enchantress’s Presence and Argothian Enchantress (and Green Sun’s Zenith for the same) combine to produce a card-drawing engine fueled by cheap, enchantment-based mana acceleration in the form of Wild Growth and Utopia Sprawl. Ten other one-mana enchantments keep the juice flowing and provide incidental answers to Legacy’s wide range of problems.

Cloud of Faeries serves as a gigantic Ritual in the middle of a combo turn and a kill condition in the end game. Similarly, Eternal Witness can rebuy a critical combo piece early and can combine with Seal of Removal going long to bounce an opponent’s entire board. Every X1GGU bounces X permanents, where X is both the number of Enchantresses that you have in play and the number of times you can activate Words of Wind.

The impressive part of the deck is that nothing is wasted. It bears repeating: every slot in the deck is part of the combo engine. Six utility creatures that the deck wants anyway are going to eventually kill an opponent. Sure, it might not be especially flashy to kill someone with four Cloud of Faeries and two Eternal Witness, but you don’t get extra match points for doing the deed with a Griselbrand or 20 Goblin tokens or whatever else. A win is a win. If you learn nothing else from this deck, learn to stop putting Emrakuls in your Enchantress deck. There are plenty of other ways to apply the lesson, but this deck is a good reminder of how to build a truly beautiful combo engine.

For those of you who are probably asking how it beats something like Goblin Charbelcher without Force of Will or Brainstorm, I have a story for you. It takes place in the aforementioned MOCS between Gainsay and an unnamed Charbelcher opponent. The game played out as such:

Turn 1 (Belcher on the play): Make 20 Goblin tokens, go.

Turn 1 (Gainsay): Forest, Elephant Grass, go.

Turn 2: Attack for one, pay using Taiga and Chrome Mox, go.

Turn 2: Upkeep Elephant Grass, Tropical Island and Wild Growth it, go.

Turn 3: Attack for one, go.

Turn 3: Upkeep Elephant Grass for two, Forest and Argothian Enchantress, go.

Turn 4: Attack for one, go.

Turn 4: Upkeep Elephant Grass for three, Forest and Utopia Sprawl, go.

Turn 5: Attack for one, go.

Turn 5: Let Elephant Grass die. Play a bunch of enchantments and an Eternal Witness, returning and replaying Elephant Grass. End the turn with three Seal of Removal in play and six mana in play, representing eighteen turns of Elephant Grass protection.

He eventually bounced all twenty Goblin tokens and drew into his Mindbreak Trap then killed his opponent with a bunch of 1/1 fliers and 2/1s.

Absolute perfection. Who needs a dedicated slot to kill someone with? No, seriously, who needs it? It’s training wheels. It’s bad deckbuilding. When your Replenish and Dark Ritual attack, who needs a Sigil of the Empty Throne?

Why Magic Online Legacy Is A Joke

There aren’t two ways about this. The card availability issues for people who want to play Legacy on Magic Online are absurd. Making Legacy a MOCS format is all well and good, but when Force of Will sells for over 100 tickets per card, we have a huge problem.

Paper Legacy decks are probably about as expensive as Magic Online Legacy decks, on balance. The problem arises when the most expensive part of playing Legacy coincides with one of the most essential cards in the most powerful (and popular, let’s get real) color. I’m happy to accept that dual lands are expensive because not all decks that play Force of Will play a given dual land. There are several Force of Will decks that don’t play any dual lands. You could fairly reasonably play something like Reanimator with a bunch of fetchlands, an Underground Sea or two, and some Darkslick Shores and get more-or-less the same output. The same is not true for Force of Wills.

As a result, we get gems like this:

This is impressive both for its finish and for its resourcefulness. Force of Will is hardly the only victim of scarcity, though. Lion’s Eye Diamond is the second-most expensive card on Magic Online, also ringing up at around 100 tickets a pop. So what happens if you want to play Storm? Well, for the most part, you don’t. If you’re particularly enterprising—and, I would have to assume, running particularly hot—you play this:

If any of you ever think that Legacy is a rich man’s format…well, you’re mostly still right. That said, someone managed to finish 13th in a 350+ person tournament with what is basically Pauper Storm. Someone else finished 32nd with Sphinx of Uthuun in their deck. Creativity isn’t dead in Legacy—it’s all we have left.

If you think the format is all RUG, Maverick, Show and Tell, and U/W Control, go buy some Seal of Removals, Geothermal Crevices, a Sphinx of Uthuun, and a heart from the Wizard of Oz. There are always people willing to mix it up a little. The best advice I can give is to go try something ridiculous. There were plenty of people making fun of Seal of Removal before they lost to it. And if you need any more reminding about what can win a SCG Legacy Open…

Have fun with it.

Until next week,

Drew Levin

@drewlevin on Twitter