Combo decks in Legacy are beautiful. Each of them embodies a very specific way of killing somebody, carefully selected from the gigantic toolbox of deadly
instruments that is Legacy.
Reanimator wants to get a Griselbrand into play and leverage free and inexpensive spells to protect it.
Sneak and Show wants to get any of a dozen different things into play ahead of schedule and figure it out from there.
Storm wants to sculpt the perfect hand, ideally culminating in the one-two punch of Lion’s Eye Diamond plus Infernal Tutor-hellbent, of course.
What do all of those decks have in common, though?
They all want to match specific cards. Reanimate and Entomb. Show and Tell and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Lion’s Eye Diamond and
Cantrips are fine, but they aren’t everything. What happened to good old-fashioned card advantage?
I just want more things. I don’t discriminate, I’m not picky-just give me more stuff, and I’ll make it work. There isn’t an All-Star on the team; no one
card is winning the game on its own. It’s a team effort. Every card can be good. More cards is good.
That’s what Epic Experiment is all about.
Epic Experiment is the Cheesecake Factory of Legacy combo cards. What you get may not be the best thing you’ve ever had, but you sure do get a lot of it.
So what’s on the menu? As it turns out, Epic Experiment tells you what the house special is. You’re getting a heaping helping of instants and sorceries.
Already, we know that our deck isn’t going to look much like any other combo deck in Legacy. Although all the other Legacy combo decks play a lot of
instants and sorceries, they also play a good number of lands and Lotus Petals, with Storm decks adding in Lion’s Eye Diamond and sometimes even Chrome
Mox. Belcher has a dozen creatures, while Sneak and Show has eight.
Epic Experiment wants no creatures, no artifacts, and as few lands as possible. It wants to use instants and sorceries to make mana, draw cards, and win
games. That means no Lotus Petals, no Brainstorm or Ponder, and a very slim manabase.
What do we want instead of Brainstorm and Ponder? How about some good-old fashioned Divinations?
Since the two best Rituals in the game are black, it stands to reason that this deck would want ways to draw cards mid-combo. To that end, we want eight
cards that let us trade two mana for two cards. If we Epic Experiment into them, we can cast them and possibly combo again – like a pauper’s version of
chaining Mind’s Desires.
As a side note, I really wish that Epic Experiment had a clause where flipping over other Epic Experiments casts them for the same X value. I don’t have
opinions on card design often, but having an Epic Experiment not lead to Even More Epic Experiment[ation] feels wrong.
Once we know that we’re Experimenting, we also know that we want heavy-duty rituals. Playing Pyretic Ritual is nice, but it’s trading a card for one mana –
hardly a great deal in the wide world of Legacy. We can do better. The best rituals for this deck are:
1. Dark Ritual (+2 mana at a cost of one)
2. Cabal Ritual (+1 or +3 mana at a cost of two, but the +3 happens enough to make it great)
3. Rite of Flame (+1 or+2 mana at a cost of one, with the +2 happening enough to ban it in Modern)
4. Seething Song (+2 mana at a cost of three-it’s this far down the list because it’s a juicy target for Daze or Spell Pierce)
5. Manamorphose (+0 mana at a cost of two, but it replaces itself – desirable in this deck because it filters into blue mana for Epic Experiment and
because it’s phenomenal if you get the Experiment Discount)
Not on the list:
1. Lotus Petal – it’s a Cabal Ritual without a graveyard that also doesn’t get cast off of Epic Experiment. No thanks!
2. Lion’s Eye Diamond – we want to build up a big hand, not to move all in on a single spell in a format with Force of Will.
3. Chrome Mox – see above.
4. Pyretic Ritual and Desperate Ritual – bad Cabal Rituals because they’re never +2 mana, worse than Manamorphose because they can’t add blue, and worse
than Rite of Flame because we need one-mana spells at some point.
Secretly on the list:
1. Geothermal Crevice and Sulfur Vent. These deserve their own paragraph.
One of the really tough parts about Storm is balancing its desire for various colors of mana throughout the game (cantrips early, discard and rituals late,
red mana on occasion) with its desire to not lose to Wasteland. Once you admit that you’re playing a deck with Sign in Blood and Epic Experiment, though,
it’s pretty clear that you’ll have legal targets for Wasteland throughout a game. Once you realize that you’re not playing Ponder or Brainstorm, though,
there are a world of possibilities that open up.
The default mode of thought for Legacy is fetchland + dual land manabases. People build them constantly, they synergize with everything from Deathrite
Shaman to Cabal Ritual, and they’re perfect for Brainstorming and Pondering.
They’re also not great here. Don’t get me wrong, we still want some, but we don’t want our mana to be all fetches and duals. The reason for that is pretty
straightforward – we don’t get anything out of shuffling our deck, and we can do better than just playing a bunch of Polluted Deltas and Badlands.
Enter Geothermal Crevice and Sulfur Vent.
These lands provide a pretty obvious benefit: having a single land tap for two mana at any point in the game has been a hallmark of Legacy playability, and
these lands do Crystal Vein a whole lot better in a deck that wants three colors of mana in a given turn.
Activating Sulfur Vent’s second ability is-if you manage to kill them that turn-a lot like getting a free Rite of Flame. There’s no better way of putting
it: if you kill someone on the turn where you sacrifice an Invasion land, the land basically gave you a free card. I was very close to putting some Ancient
Springs in this deck, just so we’re clear on how good these things are.
Where does that put us on cards so far?
We have twenty cards left to add, and at least five of them should be lands. I think we’re good on spells that add mana, so let’s focus on ways to disrupt
and kill. The first part is an easy minigame for anyone who has built a Storm deck in the last year or so:
The (now middle-aged, not quite ‘old’) Probe-Therapy combo is just as good in this deck as in any other. Gitaxian Probe is, at its worst, “pay two life to
gain one storm”. That it happens to also auto-aim for Cabal Therapy and rebuild for a second attempt after Epic Experiment is just gravy.
Cabal Therapy is a card that I’ve seen a lot of people criticize in zero-creature decks. The issue that people take with its inclusion is obvious: the card
has “Flashback: Sacrifice a creature”, this deck has no creatures, and therefore you’re playing a worse card because you can’t flash it back. While true,
this critique has no thrust, no therefore. Yes, Cabal Therapy is a worse version of itself in a deck without creatures than in a deck with
creatures. No, that doesn’t mean that other options are better.
The correct counterpoint to “But you can’t flash it back!” is “Why do I need to? They’re dead.”
Duress and Thoughtseize don’t hit multiple cards. Cabal Therapy does. If you miss and lose because of it, either you got unlucky or you played poorly. If
it’s the former, accept your lumps and move on. If it’s the latter, do some more research and come prepared next time. Cabal Therapy rewards people who
know exactly what every opponent is capable of. Duress never misses, but it also never beats a second Force of Will.
And before you tell me “Well, but they’re far more likely to have a single Force of Will!”, Cabal Therapy beats those hands, too. You just have to name the
right card, and that requirement scares a lot of people. Don’t be scared. Therapy is good for you.
So we’re down to twelve cards now, and almost half of them have to be lands. We still don’t have a way of killing people. What’s the plan, man?
If we’re going to move all in on a single turn, we want to get them dead. If we’re heavily black, Tendrils of Agony is a better option than Grapeshot or
Brain Freeze or Empty the Warrens, although both Grapeshot and Empty deserve a close look. Being able to mini-Tendrils (say, for eight to twelve life) to
buy time for a game-ending turn is a big deal, and Tendrilsing someone down to one life is a Real Thing – at one life, between fetchland activations and
Force of Will alt-casting, a lot of Legacy is unavailable to you.
It’s clear that we want multiple Tendrils of Agony. If we’re making a ton of red and black mana, doesn’t it also make sense to have Burning Wish for Epic
Experiment and Tendrils of Agony? Sure, our Experiment is going to be a bit weaker, but my guess is that Epic Experiment for X1URR is still better than a
lot of other options. I could be wrong, but it’s worth trying. Of course, we can also use Burning Wish to lay up (pardon the golfing term) and go for a
regulation Epic Experiment the following turn. If we add a set of Burning Wishes and three Tendrils of Agony, we’re going to cut an Epic Experiment and
move it to the sideboard, where we can Burning Wish for it.
With our last slot, we probably still want a card with a big, splashy effect that allows us to win the game. Given our likely occasional desire for
mini-Tendrils turns, I’m interested in a Past in Flames. It won’t be as good in a deck with Burning Wish as the primary tutor over Infernal Tutor, but it
will let us rebuy a bunch of rituals and draw spells, acting as a truly old-school Yawgmoth’s Will.
This spell configuration leaves us with five slots for lands outside of the eight Invasion lands. Whether this is too few is certainly a valid question,
but I’m going to put that off until we can see this deck in action. The last few slots should absolutely be fetchlands and dual lands that make Grixis
colors. Two fetchlands and three dual lands feels right, since we can have our dual lands be all three combinations of blue, black, and red and there are
no shortage of fetchlands that we can use to find any of those three duals.
This brings us to the following maindeck:
Of course, when you’re playing four Burning Wishes, looking at the maindeck is hardly the whole story. It is at this point that I want to take a moment to
talk about how I approach building “Wish boards.”
I think that most people have WAY too many cards in their sideboard to get with Burning Wish. I’ve seen people play with eleven-card wishboards, slotting
the last four cards as graveyard hate to try to beat Dredge. It’s maniacal. How much utility are you really getting out of those last few slots, and how
much are you losing by not having a real sideboard?
So often, you’re going to get the same card with a Wish. There is absolutely a Best Card in any wishboard. Take Omni-Tell, for instance:
Brian Tweedy had, at most, nine cards in his sideboard for Cunning Wish. I would bet that he spent the majority of his Wishes on Release the Ants, since
that’s how this deck kills an opponent. The rest of his Wishes were likely spent on bounce spells or Slaughter Pact as needed, Pact of Negation and
Trickbind very rarely, and that a large percentage of the time, he would Wish for Intuition to find three Show and Tells or three Omnisciences.
The density of “bounce spells”-the pair of Slaughter Pacts and the Echoing Truth-tells us that Slaughter Pact is a card that gets sideboarded in a fair
amount, usually against decks with multiple hate bears. If someone has Gaddock Teeg and Ethersworn Canonist, for example, you don’t want to have three
answers in your sideboard; you want two in your maindeck and the third in your sideboard. The Pacts are there, in part, to be drawn.
If you asked me what I would cut from this sideboard, I would tell you to seriously question how often you want to Cunning Wish for Noxious Revival. It’s a
three-mana Vampiric Tutor against decks that play long games against you or where you’re facing a lot of discard, but you should critically examine the net
value of “being able to Wish for Noxious Revival” versus “being able to sideboard in a third Defense Grid.”
Bringing the point back around to this deck, I want to clearly lay out what we’ll need from Burning Wish and what the best card for the job is. Our needs
– A way to kill a hapless opponent
– A way to go off
– A way to get back in the game
– A way to answer hate bears
– A way to beat their countermagic
Our goal is to find the best way of doing each of those things. We aren’t necessarily interested in finding a lot of different ways of doing those things,
since unique cards take up space that we need to solve bigger, more structural problems in certain matchups.
Our best way to kill a hapless opponent is easy. We just get Tendrils of Agony and kill them.
Our best way to go off is either with Epic Experiment (if we have a lot of mana) or with Past in Flames (if we have a big graveyard).
Our best way to get back in the game is to draw a bunch of cards. If we’re low on resources in general, it makes sense that we want the biggest inexpensive
draw spell available. In that case, we want either Cruel Bargain or Infernal Contract.
Our best way to answer hate bears is Pyroclasm. We can’t beat Mother of Runes plus a hate bear, but we also can’t reliably cast Massacre in our deck with
four ways to get a Swamp in play.
Our best way to beat a counterspell is with Thoughtseize. We would rather have Thoughtseize than Duress because we’re also interested in taking Vendilion
Clique or Venser, Shaper Savant.
The rest of our sideboard is needed to fight three fundamental battles.
Against tempo decks, we’re going to have to beat a lot of cheap counterspells, so we can’t afford to sink all of our mana into Epic Experiment. We’ll have
to play a smaller game. To that end, we want multiple copies of Empty the Warrens.
Against counterspells and other combo decks, we want ways of defending our combo and occasionally stopping theirs. Since we’re not shoving on Infernal
Tutor plus Lion’s Eye Diamond constantly, we get to play instant-speed disruption. Pyroblast is a great card for that, since we’re primarily interested in
fighting through Spell Pierce, Force of Will, and Show and Tell.
Pyroblast is distinct from Red Elemental Blast in that we can legally cast it without a meaningful target. It won’t do anything and will go to the
graveyard, but that may well enable a lethal Tendrils of Agony or thresholded Cabal Ritual.
Finally, we need a way to beat discard spells. Other Storm decks have played Ignorant Bliss, but I’m a little more ambitious. I don’t think that anyone is
going to sideboard in Maelstrom Pulse against the all-spells deck, so a permanent that protects us is fine. Rather than continue to tease you, here’s the
Bottled Cloister does exactly what we want: shuts off opposing discard spells (including Liliana of the Veil!) while also drawing us a card a turn. We can
power it out on turn two in a wide variety of ways, and it seems difficult for a Bayou deck to beat without a fast clock.
This brings our sideboard to:
The full deck, for those of you who want to export it to a .txt file, is:
As always, I welcome your suggested revisions. If Magic Online user Muellermilch is out there, I want to thank him for blazing the trail on this style of
deck. It’s awesome, and I really hope that it (or something like it) is good enough to compete in Legacy.
As for the poll – I love how thoroughly you all have embraced the format. You’ll all great. If you have any suggestions for how to improve its
functionality, feel free to let me know in the comments. See you next week with some sweet Epic Experiment videos!