Last week in my interview for Brian David-Marshall The Week That Was, I was asked how to approach a format as large as Legacy. Even with the format narrowing down in the last year or two, there are twenty or so decks you can expect to see floating around the top tables of any given event.Cards
The answer is despite there being so many decks most of them are minor riffs on the same themes. While this makes testing easier as learning to beat one Daze / Wasteland deck is similar to fighting all the other ones, there is still a decision to make when selecting a deck to play.
So when you are presented with a choice of two very similar decks, which one do you play? Most importantly for a lot of people, which one are you going to play this weekend in Grand Prix Washington DC?
I’ve talked a lot about this decision with Storm in the past, so I’ll focus on three of the other archetypes today.
RUG has been a part of the Legacy metagame since the beginning. You can tell because it had a traditional wacky Legacy name for a long time: Canadian Threshold. It’s come a long way from the Fledgling Dragon list Pat McGregor made Top 8 of Grand Prix Philadelphia with in 2005. Wasteland didn’t even show up in a GP Top 8 list of the deck until 2009! It had a bit of a lull thanks to Shards of Alara kicking up the overall power level of creatures with Wild Nacatl, but when the tempo deck was given its own three-power one-drop, it came right back.
U/W/R, on the other hand, is a new contender. Not that there haven’t been U/W/R decks in Legacy before, but they were much more controlling. The first instance I can find of this deck performing well at an event was under six months ago when Andrew Lozano made Top 8 of a StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in St. Louis with it. A few weeks later Erik Smith won the StarCityGames.com Invitational in New Jersey with it and cemented it as a deck to beat in the format.
There’s a ton of overlap between these two decks, as should be expected. Twelve threats, eleven cantrips, and a low land count are the trademarks of a tempo deck. There are three major battles in deciding which of these decks is better: Tarmogoyf versus Stoneforge Mystic as the two-mana threat of choice, Nimble Mongoose versus Geist of Saint Traft and Grim Lavamancer as the backup threat, and Swords to Plowshares versus Stifle as the one-drop disruption spell.
I’m going to just come right out and say it. I have no idea why anyone would play U/W/R Delver over RUG right now. U/W/R sacrifices a lot of fluidity and unconditionality in exchange for some very specific matchup benefits. At the time it was first winning those matchups were what counted, but the metagame has undergone a shift since then.
First of all, the threat spread in U/W/R is much more mana intensive. You have three-drops and activated abilities. When U/W/R first surfaced, it was battling against a sea of Baleful Strix where doing more than having power and toughness was very important. Now Shardless BUG and Baleful Strix are nowhere to be seen. Just being a giant creature makes a difference again, while taking extra mana is a huge downside in combo and tempo matchups.
Second, Stifle’s stock is at a high. There are tons of fetch lands to Stone Rain and Stoneforge Mystics to Squire. On the other hand, Swords to Plowshares is experiencing a massive drop in stock. Combo is having a resurgence between demolishing the Invitational and Storm’s presence at the Bazaar of Moxen. Beyond that True-Name Nemesis is changing the set of threats that matter in the format. Swords will still kill things, but things that die will be taking a back seat in relevance to the 3/1 Merfolk that doesn’t.
U/W/R will have its day in the sun again, but this weekend is not that time.
U/R Delver is a bit of a more interesting proposition. Again, we see virtually the same deck. Young Pyromancer is more fragile than Tarmogoyf but presents a similar clock without the second mana investment of Stoneforge Mystic. In exchange for what basically amounts to Nimble Mongoose costing two more you get to fetch basic lands. This battle is a little closer since Delver often wants to keep hands consisting of one land, Ponder, and Delver of Secrets and not immediately lose to a Wasteland. My gut tells me that over fifteen rounds the deck that has the most reliable game plan and least anti-synergies between Daze and three-drop threats is better, but I will not be shocked if the two-color list puts up a strong performance.
Show and Tell
Sneak and Show is very clearly the more reliable deck. Instead of Cunning Wish it gets to play more free protection spells. Of its eight big-mana spells all eight can be slammed with a Show and Tell. Omni-Tell just has the one Emrakul and four Omnisciences. When Sneak and Show plays its plan B enchantment, it has eight cards that immediately get the job done. Omni-Tell only has three Dream Halls because it requires extra cards and only has six cards to pair with it that are reasonable to win with: two Intuitions and four Enter the Infinites.
Another way to put it: Sneak and Show has four of a three-drop and four of a five-drop to pair with eight dudes for the win as a two-card combo. Show and Tell putting in Omniscience is a three-card combo even if your third piece can be a chain of cantrips.
With that being so obvious, why would we consider Omni-Tell over Sneak and Show?
Death and Taxes.
The playable White Stax deck beats up on Sneak and Show with a set of luckily well-targeted hate cards. Phyrexian Revoker shuts down Sneak Attack as a route to victory; Karakas shuts down Show and Tell; and the mana disruption trio of Wasteland, Thalia, and Rishadan Port cuts them from playing either spell.
Omni-Tell cares about almost none of this. Phyrexian Revoker stops a grand total of zero cards in the deck. Karakas shuts down a lone Emrakul that is rarely the actual win condition. Wasteland hits none of their lands that have to hit the battlefield early, while Sneak and Show is often put into awkward spots where multiple red sources are needed to Sneak Attack around Karakas (or in general) and a Volcanic Island has to enter play.
It is also worth noting that the discard spells that specifically punish Omni-Tell for taking more cards to win are phasing out of the format. Sneak and Show being so good against the cascade decks has actually cleared the way for Omni-Tell to make a comeback.
If you can trust the Legacy metagame to actually play out the way it appears, Omni-Tell could be the Show and Tell deck of choice. Of course, trusting a Legacy metagame is always a bit of a crapshoot, but I think that of all the fractions of the metagame the blue decks tend to be the most up to date.
Again, we see a less prominent third option. Reanimator is very good in specific metagames where speed matters and graveyard hate is rare. Every so often these stars align, and it spikes an event with relative ease.
Is next weekend that time?
Well, graveyard hate is not especially well represented right now. Players are trading in their Tormod’s Crypts and Surgical Extractions for Rest in Peace if anything, meaning that you can easily race the hate on the play.
The real questions in my mind are whether RUG even needs the graveyard hate and if you can beat a Karakas. I’m not sure Reanimator is very happy facing either of these things, but I could easily be wrong. If that is the case, be prepared to face the fast Griselbrand deck in the tail end of GP DC.
On the surface this debate is very easy. Do you want to have a chance against combo, or do you want to absolutely demolish the fair decks?
The first question is how much you actually gain in the combo matchups from the addition of blue. Going back a month I labeled the big combo decks as Show and Tell, Storm, and Elves. I see no reason this has changed.
Storm should lose to Jund approximately zero percent of the time. BUG isn’t exceptionally great either, but it’s definitely close. If you skew your maindeck towards it, the matchup is approximately a coin flip, but that skew is not that big of a leap. Camden Adkins’ list is about one Thoughtseize and one Force of Will away from what I would call the reasonable extent of this.
Show and Tell is a bit rougher, specifically Sneak and Show. Jund still isn’t beating it, but BUG isn’t either. Unlike Storm, there isn’t a critical mass of cards the Show and Tell deck needs to win. You just need two. Additionally, when they Force of Will your combo attempt, you still have half the resources required to go off again instead of actual nothing. Baleful Strix can help hold off a monster, but usually that’s a bit of a lost cause. If it’s Griselbrand, they just draw seven and make another one, and if it’s Emrakul, you have nothing left.
As for Elves, Jund might be the better choice. BUG is really bad at interacting with Elves. Elves exists as a relevant deck in large part because the traditional anti-combo measures don’t match up well against a deck that can also play a fair game. You Force of Will their Glimpse of Nature; they shrug and accept the two-for-one they were looking for anyway. Jund has the cheap removal necessary to stave off an early loss as well as a late-game engine that actually affects the board. Drawing three cards off of Ancestral Vision doesn’t matter much when only five cards in your deck kill creatures, while Punishing Fire gives you inevitability.
So while Jund definitely loses some edge against combo, there is only one combo deck where a significant edge is lost. In return you are a much better deck against anything with creatures.
Even more so you are way better against anything with creatures and Wasteland. Again, the additional cheap removal counts. If your opponent is trying to play a creature and Time Walk you into oblivion, being able to sneak in a removal spell and prevent them from actually profiting from the stalled-out turns is key. It’s also important that Jund’s additional cheap removal spells aren’t multicolored so you can’t randomly get Wastelanded off your green or black and be stuck with Abrupt Decay in hand. If they kill your red source, you can Decay, and if they kill your other colors, you can Lightning Bolt or Punishing Fire their Delvers and Thalias.
I think Jund is much better positioned overall, but the critical flaw of a worse Sneak and Show matchup is not to be ignored. BUG might be better to hedge your bets with, but at that point I’m left questioning why you are playing either deck if your goal isn’t to capitalize on the archetype’s strengths.
It’s very possible that the right option is somewhere along this spectrum, but I’m inclined to believe otherwise.
Losing black is a big hit since it means losing Liliana of the Veil. A month ago that didn’t matter, but then True-Name Nemesis came along. If you are going to play a long-game deck, you need a way to beat that card. The blue midrange decks have small high ends. You aren’t something like Nic Fit that can shrug at a 3/1 since you are going to make a Grave Titan and Recurring Nightmare loop a Thragtusk (or whatever that kind of person is doing these days). You are going to make a Jace and some 2/2s and be stuck trying to race an unstoppable 3/1.
Being truly four colors is also a stretch. Black isn’t splashable because the good black cards are all double black to cast. Green isn’t splashable since the whole midrange creature core is green. If we splash blue, we aren’t able to Force of Will. If we splash red, Punishing Fire is a questionable addition because you are required to play a bunch of Grove of the Burnwillows aka basic Forests to support it. No matter what color you choose to short on you lose the incentive to be that color.
I wouldn’t put a lot of stock into alternate builds of the cascade decks. If this archetype has a presence in the metagame, BUG and Jund will be the decks you can expect to play against.
The list of relevant decks I posted last month has not significantly changed. True-Name Nemesis makes a difference but not a big enough one to change the starting metagame. At most it means Stoneblade is the more prevalent midrange deck while BUG is the outdated previous-level option.
For reference, said list from fastest to slowest:
Storm: Ad Nauseam Tendrils & The Epic Storm
Show and Tell: Sneak and Show & Omni-Tell, some Reanimator
Delver Tempo: RUG & U/W/R, some U/R and Grixis
Wasteland, Port, & Creatures: Death and Taxes, some Goblins
Stoneforge Blue: Anything ranging from U/W to Esper to full-on Deathblade
Cascade Midrange: Jund & BUG
These decks will make up a significant portion of what you play against. At Legacy Champs I played one match against a deck not in the above list. While that is probably a bit on the low end, even the fringe decks are easy to predict. Dredge and Burn will be overrepresented because of budget reasons. Belcher; Oops, All Spells!; and Painter will be overrepresented because some people just want to kill you on turn 1.
Personally, I’m down to three potential decks for next weekend. Of course, I said that before Legacy Champs, and only one of them is still on the table.
Give me a week and let’s see where I’m at.