Eight By Eight

Get a handle on the current Standard and Legacy metagames before SCG Open Series: Philadelphia this weekend by reading Mike’s breakdown of the two Top 8s at #SCGCIN!

Last weekend’s Open Series in Cincinnati showcased a rare eight different decks in the Top 8 of Legacy on Sunday—and an even rarer case of eight different decks in the Standard portion! Some of these recent tournaments are really putting the kibosh on this idea that Standard is somehow solved or stale. Sure, The Aristocrats won Standard in Cincinnati, but even that deck can go three or more different ways. Nicholas Mudd had some interesting things going on with his version:

The Aristocrats

Mudd played a deck that can come out early with Champion of the Parish and then buff with any number of cards on the second turn (or double-buff with Gather the Townsfolk); Gather the Townsfolk as a four-of (especially favored over the generally staple Lingering Souls as only a two-of main deck) is an unusual choice, though highly synergistic with not only Champion of the Parish but upgrade opportunities for Xathrid Necromancer and token synergy with Intangible Virtue. So yeah, hitting for three or more on the second turn at the very least.

Mudd’s deck plays multiple powerful angles. Unlike some versions of The Aristocrats, he played Blood Artist, which provides reach and racing capabilities against other creature decks AND he played Xathrid Necromancer as a source of staying power AND Skirsdag High Priest as a source of punching power. All these cards work swimmingly with the namesake eight pack of Cartel Aristocrat and Falkenrath Aristocrat, of course.

One somewhat unusual decision by Mudd was to play only one Boros Reckoner and in the sideboard. Boros Reckoner has been a stalwart of The Aristocrats from the outset (often in concert with Blasphemous Act, which is missing entirely from this version). Mudd also eschewed both Restoration Angel and Orzhov Charm; both cards—again—have been present in some numbers in Aristocrats decks from the beginning, and both would have had some synergy with the numerous 187 cards in Mudd’s sideboard, e.g. Lifebane Zombie, Zealous Conscripts, Sin Collector, and War Priest of Thune.

Archangel Aggro

Heath Perdue’s deck is a nice one!

While not spectacularly inventive—lots of these cards are obviously sweet—Perdue actually played them (and played them together) . . . and in this case to a fine level of success. Here are some highlights:

B/W Midrange

Tenjum played a deck reminiscent of recent B/G Midrange decks—but one that hits the metagame at its own unique angle.

And that angle is three power from the sky.

This deck in a sense is choosing Restoration Angel and Obzedat, Ghost Council over its former running mate Thragtusk. Obzedat is pretty difficult to remove once you’ve got it online. Players are willing to overpay for Turn // Burn because it is one of the rare point-removal cards that will hit Obzedat—but Restoration Angel is perfect for saving your blinking legend from a removal spell (with value).

Tenjum dialed it back to Geralf’s Messenger at the three; the synergy between Geralf’s Messenger and Restoration Angel is subtle but powerful. You can trade/draw removal/whatnot and set up the undying rebuy. The opponent goes "whew," kind of wipes his brow, and digs in to the idea of finishing off a creature almost insultingly—certainly aggressively—costed BBB. But oops! You’ve got Restoration Angel! Here’s the thing—saving a Geralf’s Messenger, especially one that has already rebought, means now the opponent has to deal with the Messenger not just again but again and again! The amount of advantage these two can string together is almost oppressive.

Now don’t get me wrong—Vampire Nighthawk is one of my favorite creatures of all time. I just love that two-three for three. But the lack of Lifebane Zombie and/or Soul Collector at the three (even just out of the sideboard) is a head scratcher. Not only are these just good cards (Lifebane Zombie in particular due to its offense), but they have tremendous synergy with Restoration Angel. If I were going to try this strategy, I would consider those respective three-mana wells and early.

Naya Midrange

Naya decks with aggressive elements are nothing new in the current crop of Standard, but Adam Jansen incorporated a number of essentially red deck elements to his version while simultaneously bolstering the early accelerators here.

The inclusion of Arbor Elf increases substantially the opportunity to hit a second-turn Boros Reckoner or Loxodon Smiter, but matters are complicated by the presence of numerous non-Forest lands in this build. Lands like basic Forest and Gavony Township, on the other hand, complicate the ability to drop Boros Reckoner.

The unusual cards here are Hellrider and Chandra, Pyromaster. Naya decks have played a variety of four-drop threats—Restoration Angel, Advent of the Wurm, even Sublime Archangel—but Hellrider is fairly unique. All the different four-mana options have their advantages; Hellrider can make for a big turn 4 (especially against slower decks) or punish a control deck for tapping out.

Chandra, Pyromaster is an interesting one. It can help build advantages the same way as Domri Rade in this kind of a deck and benefits from the potential acceleration. Just as in a red deck Chandra can dovetail nicely into Thundermaw Hellkite; she can flip a fifth land to cast the Hellkite or the Hellkite itself.

Jansen could play some additional proactive angles out of his sideboard. Assemble the Legion is a powerful big threat that is not remotely vulnerable to conventional removal. Blasphemous Act allowed him to assemble a combo with Boros Reckoner or to just sweep the battlefield defensively.

Junk Reanimator

Navigating all these Scavenging Oozes to a Top 8 finish was Jose Munoz with the updated version of Junk Reanimator.

Accommodating for more anti-graveyard elements (especially maindeck), today’s Junk Reanimator deemphasizes Unburial Rites, downgrading the onetime namesake to a three-of while cutting Mulch to a two-of. Junk Reanimator always had at least one foot in the midrange camp, but the deemphasis on Unburial Rites and Mulch force the deck (or maybe just make room for the deck) to lean more on Restoration Angel and more straightforward sources of card advantage.

Known Quantities

U/W/R Flash

Few frills. U/W/R Flash is probably still the premier control-style deck in the format.

B/G Midrange

Maindeck Staff of Nin adds some spice to a deck already focused on nonblue routes to card advantage. Staff of Nin helps B/G keep pace with control and recover from Rakdos’s Return while also interacting quite nicely with all kinds of cards we have discussed today, from Champion of the Parish to Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Lifebane Zombie.

Big Red

Matt Moreno went a little littler than the deck that made Top 8 of Grand Prix Calgary with Ash Zealot. The Ash Zealots lower the curve substantially while reinforcing the deck’s haste theme; while cutting Bonfire of the Damned takes the edge off of Big Red’s power level, it also makes the deck more consistent, as does Chandra, Pyromancer.

Getting to Know the Cincinnati Legacy Top 8

Some players view Legacy as a cyclical format. Something does well, the rest of the decks adjust, the adjustments stop being necessary . . . and we fall back to the zero position. I have never personally bought into that theory of the format, but I will say that certain recent deck performances seem to be having an impact and that the strangely disparate composition of this Top 8 (including many different explosive nonblue combo decks) seems indicative of something quite interesting.

Grixis Delver

Arguably the most interesting deck of the Legacy Top 8 was actually the Open winner. You could write an entire article—probably more than one—on this strategy (and Drew Levin recently did!).

I want to couch Grixis Delver as a kind of response to RUG Delver. You can in a sense look at Grixis Delver as RUG Delver exchanging Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf for Dark Confidant and Young Pyromancer. The deck can still play the RUG Delver mana-screw game—four Wastelands and four Stifles—and might be even better at it given the increased velocity provided by Dark Confidant (and the fourth Gitaxian Probe). The deemphasis on the graveyard allows Grixis Delver flexibility with Grim Lavamancer that most RUG Delver players have never been comfortable with.

The addition of black gives this deck some different options for handling fatties (as it has no Tarmogoyfs to hold off Tarmogoyf), most notably the blowout Perish and the attrition-kind Baleful Strix.

Cabal Therapy is the anti-combo/control discard spell of choice at least in part because flashing it back off of a Young Pyromancer token is not only essentially free but can give you a replacement token!

Painted Stone

StarCityGames.com own Reuben Bresler took last week’s Open winner to a second-place finish in Cincinnati—but further spiced up the Mono-Red Painted Stone deck with the addition of red’s newest planeswalker, Chandra, Pyromaster.

In case you missed last week (or the Open coverage), Painted Stone laces together Painted Servant (usually naming blue) and Grindstone in order to deck the opponent in one sweet activation. Even without Grindstone in play Painter’s Servant is quite useful as the deck plays a ton of Pyroblasts and Red Elemental Blasts. These cards basically counter or kill anything (!!!) with Painter’s Servant set to blue and give the deck a fairly obvious natural efficiency advantage against actual blue decks.

The same fast mana lands that allow Painted Stone to play a second-turn Blood Moon can also help accelerate out a fast Chandra. Chandra has a lot of potential upsides, not the least of which is a little bit of digging with red not being known for its card drawing and search capabilities. Great innovation by Reuben.


Belcher as a strategy gets a lot of free wins. A huge number of opening hands ("hands" being a chunk of cards, including not only your opening seven but any random seven or eight your opponent might let you draw [back] up after stopping your combo the first time) get the opponent essentially immediately. And when the Deck To Beat (or at least the deck that just won) is a mono-red combo deck, a faster nonblue combo deck can make for an extra healthy choice.

Shardless BUG

The best attrition deck in the format actually reinforces the viability of Belcher! While Shardless BUG is a two-for-one machine with its cascade, Baleful Strixes, Ancestral Visions, and Hymns, as it stands the deck only has two copies of Force of Will main—not a huge amount of resistance to a deck that can set up a super-fast kill.


Shifting the kill to Craterhoof Behemoth allows Elves to take greater advantage of Natural Order. Elves is yet another explosive and redundant nonblue combo deck. One advantage it has over decks in the category is a fundamental strength against tax Counterspells; Dazes, Spell Pierces, and so on get really bad against Elves really quickly. Decks like Belcher—ones that have to commit to accelerators like Chrome Mox and Desperate Ritual that actually burn cards—don’t command nearly the same level of resistance.

While it can go for an ultra-quick win, unlike some other combo decks, Elves doesn’t have to; it can play a progressive game, accumulating mana resources, attacking for one or two, and generally playing around the kinds of cards that can prove big problems for many of its close cousins.


A few years ago, Dredge was one of the dominant decks in Extended. It wasn’t the clear best deck, but it was close; the second-best deck at worst, winning something like 75% of game 1s and held in check in Top 8 situations largely only due to a commitment by many, many players to run about eight cards in their sideboards just against Dredge. Eight. If the number went down, Dredge’s percentage went way up. Which is logical . . . This is a deck that can play though mana screw, set the opponent up with Cabal Therapy before taking a risky action, and set an offensive tone with Bridge from Below even if the opponent has a counterspell.

Do you know how many anti-graveyard cards got played on average in this Top 8?

A heck of a lot less than eight per deck.

Almost half of all the anti-graveyard cards in the entire Top 8 were played in THIS DECK’S sideboard!

The lesson?

Every so often Dredge gets stupid. If no one is aiming directly for it, it is just going to win a ton of free games. Dredge is a glass cannon, sure. Everyone can side Tormod’s Crypt and Surgical Extraction (and Dredge will still win through those sometimes), but if everyone actually commits to doing so, beating those sideboard cards is going to be impossible eventually.

We might just be at a point in the metagame—that might not last, mind you—where the explosive nonblue, combo deck of choice is the one that busts [out of] the graveyard. Oh, and when Dredge was that big problem in Extended? It’s not like they had Lion’s Eye Diamond.

B/W/R Stoneblade

Reminiscent of Gerard Fabiano Team Italia, Alex Waskelo’s take on the Stoneforge Mystic strategy is both disruptive and powerful and attacks the metagame from a slightly different angle.

Creatures like Tidehollow Sculler and Aven Mindcensor disrupt the opponent’s development while simultaneously pressing offensively. And, of course, decks like these will take whatever body they can to carry a Jitte.

While not a big name archetype, this deck commands a number of iconic threat cards, including many that have been banned in other formats—Stoneforge Mystic, Bitterblossom, and Hymn to Tourach to name just a few twos. The play of just two copies of Lightning Bolt (though four copies of Swords to Plowshares) raises an eyebrow, but don’t forget that Lightning Helix allows you to play a completely different game against aggro than not Lightning Helix. No shortage of fast interaction here.

Four-Color Loam

Kurt Crane’s Top 8 deck brings further resistance to the idea that Legacy is a format with no secrets. This deck obviously plays synergies that are similar to other known decks but also brings to bear elements that give it more play or put it on a different level. Crane’s Loam deck might not play an Exploration game, but the presence of real threat creatures like Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary can solve the absence of proactivity that hampers some other decks.

In addition to using Life from the Loam as the engine to a Tranquil Thicket, Crane’s deck has a number of pocket combos. Letting a deck like this operate for a few turns unfettered makes life tough for fair decks; not only is it usually card advantage prohibitive to interact with Life from the Loam directly, but you can find yourself losing to one of the pocket combos and unable to deal with the next one even if you figure out how to interact with the first.

Legacy is a vast format allowing for a dizzying number of viable decks of which these eight don’t even scratch the surface. Reuben clearly learned from last week’s Top 8 to try out a new (or rediscovered) strategy in Painted Stone, but rather than switching to any particular new or different deck yourself, you might want to think about the composition of the final tables. Tons of explosive combo decks and relatively little interactive permission resistance—there might be a hole to exploit there . . . a hole or some serious backlash.


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