Diving Into Depths

Glenn takes a break from Modern to explore the possibilities with a recent Legacy upstart and one of his favorite cards: Dark Depths. Check it out for #SCGLA!

Having feasted on Modern content for the better part of the month, we’re going to try a little palate cleanser today. Let’s talk about a recent Legacy upstart, one of my favorite cards that is actually banned in the Modern format: Dark Depths.

When Dark Depths first came out, it was considered much more cute than anything else, but the printing of Vampire Hexmage rapidly adjusted that evaluation. Suddenly you could threaten to kill people very quickly with the land, and it developed a number of interesting archetypes right before the Extended format disappeared and Modern banned it on principle.

While I won’t argue that Marit Lage had it coming, this saddened me. I loved Depths decks!

While the alliteration alone was enough to earn my heart, it was actually the potency of Depths strategies that I enjoyed the most. Think about the average game of Magic—what happens when the opponent makes a mistake? Generally, they take extra damage, you earn an additional card, or tempo shifts in your favor. Basically, the balance of the ongoing resource exchange tips toward you.

If someone makes a mistake against ol’ Marit Lage, they take twenty damage. The vast majority of the time, any error or miscalculation is going to leave the opponent in very mortal danger!

I’m not the only person who loves Depths. When Thespian’s Stage was spoiled, many players realized that it would provide us with another way to "cheat" Marit Lage into play, copying Dark Depths and using the new legend rule to keep your thawed-out version in play, immediately making Marit Lage. It costs roughly the same as Vampire Hexmage, but the benefits are significant when it comes to being a land versus a creature!

  • Virtually any tool that helps find Dark Depths can help find Thespian’s Stage, providing redundancy.
  • Thespian’s Stage can’t be countered if you play it; they have to attack the trigger point in the combo.
  • Thespian’s Stage can tap for mana when it’s not trying to kill the opponent, a perk that (depending on the decks involved) will often be more valuable than a warm body.
  • Thespian’s Stage is colorless; you don’t need Urborg or a heavy black commitment to enable the card.

That’s a lot of benefits! The earliest chatter I heard about this interaction came from players eager to add it to Maverick, turning Knight of the Reliquary (and in some particularly dedicated lists, Crop Rotation) into a fast win. I know a lot of fans on The Source in particular found this worthwhile.

The strategy managed a quick showing on the SCG Open Series and has also appeared overseas.

This is a pretty standard Dark Maverick variant that incorporates the combo. I’m not really a big fan of it in decks like this one, though, because untapping with Knight of the Reliquary is honestly already so good that fetching a pair of lands for a combo kill seems like overdoing it. The time and initiative to make two Knight activations should really provide enough of a window to win however you want.

This is much more interesting. For those not in the know, a Weathered Wayfarer + Aether Vial Maverick variant saw some success overseas several months ago during the Bazaar of Moxen in the hands of a player credited with inventing Maverick itself! Obviously Weathered Wayfarer provides you with another way to tutor for the combo, and considering this archetype’s flatter power level, I can envision it being more effective here. That said, it burns that Phyrexian Revoker can’t protect you from Wasteland. Sylvan Safekeeper saw occasional play as a Mother of Runes you can Green Sun’s Zenith for in the past, and it’s excellent in that role here.

For a while, that was really all there was to talk about with regard to Dark Depths in Legacy. Then at the start of the year, this happened!

Watching this deck cut through the Legacy Open in Indianapolis was a delight. The Life from the Loam engine is a natural complement to Thespian’s Stage + Dark Depths, and this deck mashes together a lot of interesting things. We’ve got elements from Modern and Extended Assault-Loam archetypes alongside the Punishing Fire engine with a Lands package!

It’s just a really sweet bit of deckbuilding. I could dive into it myself, but why should I when Kennen himself contributed a fantastic piece on the archetype? Read all about his design here.

What many people may have forgotten is that another completely different Dark Depths based deck also made the Top 8 of that event: Junk Depths.

Tony’s build looks a fair bit like Jeff Hoogland’s Loam deck with a bit of Maverick splashed in, leaning on a Living Wish engine rather than one based upon Burning Wish. Living Wish can grab Vampire Hexmage, Dark Depths, or Thespian’s Stage, letting Tony set up exactly what he needs, albeit at a significant mana cost, but he’s also got a lot of combo hate thanks to the various bears and maindeck Chalice of the Void, with other sweet solutions like Peacekeeper, Orzhov Pontiff, and Qasali Pridemage available.

The price of Dark Depths immediately jumped following that event, and we started seeing the deck pop up a lot more often on the Open Series and in local Legacy events alike. I was as surprised as anyone to see it win the Legacy Open in Baltimore less than a month later however!

Whoa—this is yet another significantly different take on a strategy leaning hard upon the Dark Depths + Thespian’s Stage combo!

You guys may think I’m overstating how incredible it is to see so many different decks incorporate this interaction in such a small span of time, but this is the Legacy format—things move like molasses out here! To see so many very different decks succeed, all exploiting the same synergy with variable supporting casts, is really something.

Let’s examine Kurt’s take. Its closest analog is to the actual Lands deck, going so far as to include Manabond and full playsets of Maze of Ith, Rishadan Port, and Wasteland alongside several bullets among his 35 lands. Gamble is a cool addition, part Entomb and part Demonic Tutor, but check out the sideboard. His sideboard is actually designed to let him adapt his strategy along the same axes as several of the previous decks! He’s got Dark Confidant, Chalice of the Void, Last Rites (basically a one-shot Raven’s Crime), and additional Dark Depths. His post-board configuration will often look very similar to some of the above decklists!

Of course, to Kurt this deck wasn’t adapting those players’ technology into another shell—he’d been quietly honing the archetype for months, having posted a 7-1 finish in the Legacy portion of the SCG Invitational in New Jersey in July!

Clearly, Kurt had found a winning formula for that event, and while his Standard record didn’t carry him to a Top 8, he converted that Legacy effort into a championship at the Open in Baltimore.

Just a month prior, Patrick Chapin had actually posted a rough idea similar to Kurt’s concept. The precise basis, hybridizing Thespian’s Stage + Dark Depths with a Lands deck, was there, but Patrick’s bend (naturally) twisted toward blue.

He discussed the deck in brief to illustrate a point on the impact of the Magic 2013 rules changes (and to incidentally leave Drew eating crow for the first quarter of 2014), but I can highlight the most significant differences easily enough. Intuition is slower than Gamble or Entomb but far more versatile and effective at its job. Legacy’s "Demonic Tutor" really just requires a commitment to good deckbuilding—and dodging some weird variance.

Several singleton artifacts alongside the blue-given Academy Ruins gives us some known tricks Lands has always had access to but that Kurt found himself leaving behind in switching colors. Patrick’s adjustment here was mostly an inclusive tweak rather than an archetype overhaul, but by working our way backward, we’ve seen how different the fruits of an idea can be from the seeds that get them started.

But wait—there’s more!

This year has presented us with three more equally unique takes on Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage. Each of these decks is all in on the combo—they’re not going to Punishing Fire you out, grind you with Nether Spirit, or bash with Knight of the Reliquary. It’s Marit Lage or bust, baby!

Our first offering went largely unnoticed following the Grand Prix despite being a unique list with a Top 16 finish.

Kasper has access to the Intuition engine I mentioned just a few paragraphs back, but he’s also packing so much more! Several sweet blue cards give him the ability to pump his combo matchups with maindeck Force of Will, but those blue cards are mostly cantrips, meaning he can increase consistency efficiently.

The Living Wish engine is doing a lot of work here, and it’s likely that Kasper leaned on Wish in the vast majority of his wins. His maindeck is built to dig for cards and accelerate its mana while defending itself without much thought given to proactive interaction. The sweetest innovation he’s made is definitely Flagstones of Trokair. The "Plains" lets him Crop Rotation very differently and helps to Wasteland proof his Supreme Verdict against aggressive tempo decks by ensuring he at least keeps in gear on land drops even if he winds up a little slowed.

This deck is super cool but not really my cup of tea. It’s so all in on the combo that you’re doing a lot of solitaire, and it seems more vulnerable than many others to Wasteland and Swords to Plowshares.

I love this deck.

As soon as I saw it on Magic Online, I nearly bought all of the cards on the spot. It’s difficult to say what attracts me the most, but there are so many sweet things. I’ve always loved combo decks that incorporate Dark Confidant—it’s just such a dirty thing to abuse everyone who sides out their removal! The hardcore Pithing Needle playset offers some major game against Wasteland and also lets you screw with other random cards you might encounter, such as Wirewood Symbiote and Liliana of the Veil.

But really? I think it’s Steely Resolve.

It’s just so adorable. Not only is it actually a very reasonable defense against Swords—no more insane than, say, Not of This World—but it’s also fun! We can all admit it: making the opponent read is a guilty pleasure.

Not of This World is pretty sweet though. A free Vines of the Vastwood that can really only be punished by various counterspells, I wouldn’t fault anyone for turning to the Eldrazi magic. If that sounds like it’s up your alley . . .

Our own Nick Miller conducted a deck tech with one of my good friends, Jeff Blyden, on this deck during the Legacy Open in Nashville. I know this particular variant has popped around on Magic Online with a few different configurations, but Jeff’s version shows off the most interesting differences.

The fact that Into the North is implemented here as an accelerant and a tutor alongside Sylvan Scrying over Living Wish leaves the deck intent on turbo combo. To that end, Jeff also has access to Vampire Hexmage and included Elvish Spirit Guide! A Twilight Mire or two might be worth our while to really make Spirit Guide sing, but that’s nitpicking. The Spirit Guides are excellent weapons against Daze and can throw a lot of chaos into opposing planning when incorporated alongside Lotus Petal.

Thoughtseize is valuable at disrupting opposing answers, but I’m worried that it’s just not efficient enough and that it might be too easy to brick—opponents won’t have many cards that interact with the combo, and if they have none, then trading a card for one of yours is ideal for them. It’s possible you’d actually prefer Gitaxian Probe a la Belcher, as this deck actually has a fairly reasonable amount of play and recovery to it. You can work through opposing defenses without dying outright, and in many matchups you won’t want to give up a card for essentially a Peek.

Finally—that’s right, only one more—we have a very old spin that has been basically abandoned after a Top 8 finish at the beginning of the year.

This deck was labeled Reanimator, which may have wound up tricking many players into glancing past Ross Roemer’s cool concept. In a chat with fellow denizen of the Dark Depths Gerry Thompson this past weekend, we were both very surprised to have never seen this decklist before!

This deck existed before Thespian’s Stage, so it’s only using Vampire Hexmage to bust a 20/20 from the icy prison, but Ross hybridized that aspect of the deck with a tutor-heavy Reanimator build. Reanimate effects are actually pretty handy with Hexmage, as they defend the only counterable part of the combo by forcing it into play over and over. Eventually they will run out, and then it’s "kill the token or die" for the opponent.

Of course, you can also just Reanimate a gigantic monster and club the opponent to death with that instead. That’s the beauty of the deck!

Any opponent who loses to Reanimate in game 1 is going to immediately reach for their sideboarded graveyard hate—cards that are completely irrelevant against opposing Marit Lage. If they do see the Dark Depths combo in game 1, then they may not realize you’re capable of killing them from the graveyard. And of course if they see both sides, they’re left guessing during sideboarding. Which plan is most dangerous? How do they defend on both fronts? These questions have answers, but solving such problems on the fly in the span of a sideboarding session isn’t easy.

I can’t say I agree with the selection of creatures here (a second Iona, Shield of Emeria and zero Griselbrand?) but the basic Reanimator shell isn’t a bad home for Hexmage Depths if that’s your game. Ross went mono-black, giving up Brainstorm, Ponder, Daze, and Force of Will for Spoils of the Vault and Beseech the Queen. A high Swamp count means he can cycle the Spoils for mana rather consistently, but the blue could well be worth it. The all-basics mana base has value against Wasteland, but it’s very possible that tricking opponents into Wastelanding Underground Seas is exactly what you want with Dark Depths in your deck!

The sheer range of possibilities that include Thespian’s Stage and Dark Depths is truly staggering—it just goes to show you how sweet colorless combos can be. I’m particularly interested in developing some of the ideas I included at the end of the article, so don’t be surprised if you see me slinging Marit Lage in the near future!