Roughly a month ago, I called out those people who were clamoring for something to be banned just weeks after Mental Misstep had entered the metagame,
telling them to whine less and adjust more. The thread I customarily create on mtgthesource.com to discuss my articles became huge, much larger than
anything an article of mine had triggered so far. In it, there was some heated but reasonable discussion mixed with accusations of intellectual
dishonesty* and people essentially telling me I was an idiot and that Misstep had killed the non-blue part of the Legacy metagame.
*Caused by the bonus section covering my exploits with Caw Cartel. Caw Cartel obviously is exactly the kind of blue deck people were complaining about,
and some people couldn’t make the difference between my playing control because that’s what I do and control simply destroying everything
else. Admittedly, a tournament report detailing a win with hardcore blue control was a weird fit for an article that energetically insisted that blue
decks weren’t unbeatable, but I had hoped the bonus section header would clue people in that the main article was finished. Apparently that kind of
assumption doesn’t work for everybody.
None of that changed my conviction that the new metagame can be successfully adapted to without forcing everybody to be blue. I had played games with
the blue decks against non-blue opponents, not to mention that I have a decade of (usually painful) experiences to draw from to understand what kind of
cards and strategies actually beat control. To me, there was no question that people would eventually come up with ways to defeat Misstep-fueled blue
decks. I was only worried that it would take too long and that the self-perpetuating hype surrounding Misstep would keep most people from even trying.
Lo and behold, StarCityGames.com Open: Baltimore finally brought out players that innovated instead of complaining and rewarded them with a fair number
of top eight berths. They generally didn’t even need to go much further than the kinds of cards I had already suggested either before the GP or in the
about beating the new blue—Cabal Therapy, Life from the Loam, and Sylvan Library among the frontrunners.
Blue Back to Normal
Out of interest, I compared the numbers of blue, non-blue, and other decks in the top 16s of SCG Opens ranging from February (once the meta had settled
after Survival was banned) to Charlotte (the last event without Misstep in the format) to sixteen lists that performed best in Baltimore, categorizing
decks either as blue, non-blue, or other.
The “other” category includes those decks that play some blue cards but aren’t what we typically identify as a blue deck. I drew the limit
at playing more than just the cantrip cartel engine of Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain, as ANT definitely isn’t the kind of blue deck people have
been complaining about because of Misstep. Things like Affinity and Dredge also fall under this category while anything with Force of Will clearly
The results are encouraging and fly in the face of the complaining minority—at least in Baltimore, blue wasn’t any better than it had been before
Misstep, on the contrary. Blue had actually been much more successful in some Opens before Misstep when everybody still agreed the format was awesome.
Take a look:
Blue : Non-Blue : Other
In any event other than L.A. (where “other” decks had a day in the sun), blue decks performed either comparable to or better than they did
in Baltimore (measuring performance by number of placements in the top 16, not exactly the most accurate measure admittedly). Either way, if this keeps
up, I think we can all go back to enjoying the game instead of proclaiming the death of most archetypes.
Three Decks to Beat Them
When I last talked about beating blue, I put the spotlight on classic Goblins and Zoo as options that would likely crush the new blue decks in spite of
what the hype might have to say. That comeback was somewhat short-lived (note that there are two Zoo decks in the Baltimore top 16, though), probably
because Misstep-resistant combo decks started picking up speed at roughly the same time. There are some less traditional options that have been
performing well in the new metagame (or are new enough to not really have much resume but seem strong nonetheless), so those definitely can use some
As I elaborated last time when discussing Hive Mind, the two-card combo decks that trouble traditional aggro decks are much more vulnerable to hand
disruption than traditional Storm combo decks. Two B/G mages making ample use of black disruption punched their way into the top eight in Baltimore.
Jacob Simmons’ Eva Green list is something of a classic, Legacy’s version of black aggro that has its roots in the Suicide Black decks of old (though
his Bitterblossoms are obviously ridiculously good against control).
To me, though, the most exciting list of the tournament is Ken Adams’ Buried Alive deck:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Triskelion
- 1 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Basking Rootwalla
- 1 Phyrexian Devourer
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 3 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Bloodghast
- 3 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Necrotic Ooze
Ken’s deck combines the powerful disruption of Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy with a regular beatdown plan and a number of overlapping engines
including the instant-win Ooze combo. When I saw the list, it instantly made me think of this old Roland Bode special (some of you might still remember
the inventor of Vintage GAT):
- 1 Shivan Hellkite
- 1 Uktabi Orangutan
- 4 Wild Mongrel
- 4 Arrogant Wurm
- 4 Basking Rootwalla
- 3 Worldgorger Dragon
- 1 Anger
- 1 Gorilla Shaman
- 4 Squee, Goblin Nabob
While the actual cards involved are obviously wildly different, these decks are very similar on a fundamental level: Survival (or in Ken’s case the
only legal replacement—Fauna Shaman) and other graveyard enablers (Bazaar of Baghdad/Buried Alive) are used to splice a number of card advantage
engines as well as an instant combo win into a strong green beatdown strategy with the help of a small number of reanimation spells.
This kind of construction opens you up to a ridiculous variety of angles of attack and lines of play. In Ken’s deck, Buried Alive and Fauna Shaman can
power out the old Survival plan of mass Vengevines hitting play early, get Bloodghasts as a different, often easier to trigger equivalent that fuels
Cabal Therapy extremely well or assemble the full Ooze combo as long as a Reanimate is available (with a Fauna Shaman, you can even win by simply
having the mana to hardcast Ooze).
The best part is that, if neither engine can be made to work, the deck even has the very reasonable fallback plan of just crashing with Tarmogoyfs and
hardcast Vengevines. And that’s only in the maindeck! Post-board Ken can adapt to graveyard hate by boarding in the totally different Natural Order
plan and/or strengthen his ability to win attrition battles with Dark Confidants.
All the pieces work together naturally. Vengevines are fine creatures already, though somewhat expensive. Reanimates are useful utility spells that
have already seen play in Team America in the past. With powerful creatures available, not to mention discard (just imagine Thoughtseizing an opposing
Reanimator player on turn two and hitting Jin-Gitaxias, than Reanimating it yourself), Reanimate is a fine card all on its lonesome. Finally Buried
Alive can set up something disgusting no matter the situation (Bloodghast to fuel Therapies and come back ad infinitum against mass removal, Vengevine
as an extremely fast clock if there are creatures in hand and the Ooze combo to simply race anything aggressive) and provides the deck with an actual
plan for long games.
Considering the powerful synergies being exploited here and the deck’s ability to either play as a discard-heavy aggro-control deck, a medium-fast
combo deck or a simple green-based beatdown deck, I’d be very surprised if Ken’s creation wasn’t poised to become a format staple (as long as graveyard
hate doesn’t become too extreme that is). Remember, last time I said something along these lines? I was talking about Reid Duke NO RUG deck. You just
have to look at what Alex Bertoncini has traded in his Merfolk for to see how that one turned out.
Something Willfully Independent
While I could very well see myself running something along the lines of Ken’s deck (which still needs an actually catchy name, by the way), the deck
I’ll be talking about next I wouldn’t ever touch with a ten-foot pole. Not because it isn’t good (the deck has actually been performing very well
recently, though I don’t remember seeing it at an SCG Open in the last months) but because it’s the kind of deck I just can’t stand playing. Take a
look at Maverick:
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Scryb Ranger
- 3 Aven Mindcensor
- 1 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Gaddock Teeg
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 2 Qasali Pridemage
- 3 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
Maverick is the heir apparent to GW Survival, the Survival variant actually least reliant on its namesake enchantment. In modern lists, the raw power
of Survival into Vengevines or an early Iona, Shield of Emeria courtesy of Loyal Retainers has been replaced with the less broken but still impressive
plan of Stoneforge Mystic powered Equipment and a Green Sun’s Zenith bullet toolbox.
Mother of Runes is still a powerful weapon against all kinds of spot removal and opposing creatures, but what puts the deck over the top in comparison
to straight beatdown decks are the efficient hate bears it gets to run (which Mother conveniently helps keep alive), giving it interactive abilities
outside the realm of creature combat. Aven Mindcensor in particular seems ridiculous in a format as full of tutoring (not to mention fetchlands) as
Legacy—Stoneforge Mystic, Natural Order, Intuition, Knight of the Reliquary, Infernal Tutor, and Goblin Matron are really only the tip of the
iceberg—and picks Equipment like a champ.
The weird-looking Scryb Ranger also seems like sweet tech against something like the current crop of Stoneforge decks when equipped with a Sword of
Light and Shadow (they usually don’t actually have any out at all) and the pro Blue and flying make it incredibly sweet against Merfolk, especially as
it can always attack than untap itself to block.
I don’t have much experience with or against the deck myself, so I won’t deliver a too in-depth analysis. I still think it’s a good idea to spread
awareness of this deck even if I can’t tell you much more than a decklist and the fact that the deck seems to be solid in spite of looking odd.
Maverick’s structure and gameplan seem sound if a midrangey toolbox creature-deck along the lines of historic survival lists is something you enjoy.
One strong argument for the decks potential is that it has made it into the deck to beat section of Mtgthesource.com, meaning it made up at least 4% of
the Top 8s in Legacy tournaments with more than 32 players throughout the last month. Considering it has done so without any performance on the SCG
Open circuit that I’m aware of (and the associated coverage), that’s quite impressive, actually.
That kind of success indicates to me that those of you that enjoy this kind of deck should probably be trying it out in the SCG Opens. There is a ton
more useful information on the source, including discussion
about correct equipment-choices (the ridiculous power of Sword of Fire and Ice seems like something I’d want), how many Sylvan Libraries the deck
should play (seems good to me, Sylvan Library is probably one of the ten best green cards in the format) and which creature configuration is correct
for what metagame.
Daring and Winning
And then there’s obviously another option: ignore combo and focus on crushing everything else. That’s what Mica Greenbaum did by picking up an old
standby, Aggro-Loam. I don’t see his list beating basically any combo-deck more than once in a blue moon (well, graveyard-based one’s aside. His
Leylines are quite the beating there) but he makes up for that with a late game from heaven.
Mica’s deck is fine early, dropping big creatures (or Dark Confidant) to lock up the board or put pressure on the opponent (it also dodges Misstep
almost completely), but in the late game the deck is just insane. Loam gives it draw-power that can’t be efficiently stopped with regular countermagic
and a resolved Devastating Dreams will usually just end the game as Mica should either have (now-)huge creatures in play to kill an Armageddoned and
Wrathed opponent or simply recover much faster thanks to Life from the Loam recouping lands. If he doesn’t just Waste-lock his opponent out of the game
after the Dreams, that is.
While this plan is somewhat lackluster against control (discarding the cards is part of the Dreams’ cost), it is an utter blow out against anything
that can’t stop it. And against control, the natural card-advantage produced by Loam is usually decisive anyway, Dreams or no.
The one innovation Mica has made compared to classic Aggro Loam lists is the real dozy here, though. Cutting Seismic Assault for the Punishing
Fire—Grove of the Burnwillows infinite burn engine is ridiculous against almost any deck people are currently playing and much more threatening
than the more explosive Seismic Assault plan the deck traditionally used.
Merfolk or Goblins basically never beats recurring Punishing Fires as everything they play is small enough to get shot down and even the control-decks
can’t really deal with the engine. As long as they can’t get rid of the Grove (and with Loam, that’s a pretty difficult thing to do), the engine will
stop any control-deck indefinitely. Jace is forced to scry every turn, neutering the only draw-engine that can actually keep up with Loam and there
isn’t a single win condition in the control-decks that actually fights Punishing Fire effectively. If there’s one thing not deck-specific you should
take away from Mica’s success it’s the power of Fire-Grove in the current metagame.
In Mica’s deck, it’s even better as Loam allows you to dig three cards deep every turn for the engine instead of just drawing a single card. Both Fire
and Grove are fine things to simply mill into the Graveyard as a cast Loam will then bring the recursion online, turning the self-milling into a
benefit instead of a cost.
There are a few things that unite the three decks I talked about in depth. First, all of them have the ability to interact with the opponent’s game
plan outside the battlefield. Even the deck most limited in this department, Mica’s Aggro-Loam deck, can use mana denial to simply strand spells in the
opponent’s hand while Maverick and Ken’s Buried Alive deck all use actual disruption to unravel the opponent’s well-laid plans.
In addition, every one of them has embraced mana acceleration, be it Mox Diamond or mana creatures. Jumping ahead of the curve makes it harder for the
control-decks to set up the kind of situation they want to see—that is a nice clean board to drop a Jace on—and forces aggressive decks
into the defensive early (or makes them waste their removal and mana on killing Birds of Paradise), allowing these decks to get to the kinds of game
states they’re comfortable in without losing too much life first.
Another attribute most of them share (Eva Green is lacking in this department, though Bitterblossom helps a ton) is the ability to win a drawn out
attrition-fight against almost anybody. Aggro Loam is obviously insane with seven lands and Loam active and Ken’s deck has truly frightening
recursion-engines and a combo-kill that can come out of nowhere to keep going long after the first few turns have played out. Maverick looks a bit weak
on first sight, but Mother of Runes and Knight of the Reliquary coupled with well-chosen hate bears can create essentially unbreakable lockout
situations akin to what Enchantress does against some decks. Green Sun’s Zenith shuffling back in also means that the threat-density in the deck
actually increases over time (as lands leave the deck) and the Equipment are a very viable late game plan against anything that can’t be crippled with
These observations allow us to understand the new metagame much better. To be well positioned, a deck has to have the ability to do something about
things happening outside the battlefield and provide early action while—and that’s what’s new—still presenting a good plan for
what to do in the late game. What Mental Misstep has really done is punish decks that are only efficient on turn one to four and falter afterwards.
That being said, Zoo is still doing fine with another two placements in the top sixteen here after making it to the top eight of the Invitational (and
winning) so pure aggression isn’t dead either. The Zoo decks doing well seem to be split between versions built towards a stronger late game similar to
what I just discussed for the three less common archetypes and extremely one-drop heavy lists that just try to put too much pressure on the opponent in
the same way Zoo has always won its games.
In spite of having said that a powerful late game seems to be an important element of successful decks at the moment, I’m not really a big fan of Big
Zoo. Whenever I look at those lists, the red package just seems underwhelming in a deck that wants to play the midrange game compared to what other
cards/colors offer (though Fire—Grove as seen in the video coverage might change the equation again. The engine is just that good right now).
Personally, if I were forced to play Zoo, I’d go with a fast build that uses three Sylvan Libraries and a lot of burn to achieve the necessary late
game-power to win games through reach if tempoing the opponent out has failed.
That’s it for this week. The latest results paint a much brighter picture of the future of post-Misstep Legacy than the blue dominance directly
following the release of NPH would have suggested. Sure, the metagame has been massively shaken up but that is as much a chance as anything. Decks that
had been underwhelming for a long time (like hard control and black disruption decks as well as grindy card-advantage strategies) are suddenly making
it back into the top tiers of the format. Best of all, old favorites mix with innovative strategies to take on the new metagame and succeed, a clear
indication that there are many avenues to explore now that wouldn’t have been viable in the faster format before Misstep changed everything. Now that
there’s proof that Misstep can in fact be dethroned and we have some data to show us how to do it, this is quite the exciting time to be
innovating. Until next time, make sure you own the late game!
Mini Bonus Section: Caw Cartel Q’n’D
This time the bonus section is really just for kicks and giggles as our regular Legacy-tournament being rescheduled to start three hours late meant we
only got about fifteen players and four rounds (one of which I IDed). I still wanted to include the Q’n’D report, I just really enjoy those.
Disclaimer: This is the bonus section. Just because I’m playing blue doesn’t mean I think it’s miles better than anything else. Ok, this should be
enough to play it safe, right?
Onto the Q’n’D:
Round 1 BW Stoneforge
Game 1: Removal into Clique-lock into Moat and Jace.
Round 2: GWB Dark-Depths-Loam
Game 1: He can’t find Loam and Hawkcestrals happen. I ultimate Jace. The interesting part here was that he didn’t scoop to Jace ultimate letting me
look through his whole deck before he decked out four turns later. Thanks for the free information, I guess.
Game 2: I drop Back to Basics on turn 3. He has three non-basics out.
Round 3: NO Bant transforming into Show and Tell Emrakul post-board
Game 1: I get to Moat. Clique isn’t particularly good at beating through Hawks.
Game 2: Dryad Arbor beats (backed by two Hierarchs) are the only thing he gets going. Unsurprisingly, that isn’t enough.
Round 4 Teammate and testing partner from CAB Maxim Barkmann with our version of NO RUG
Game 1&2: We’re the only players on 9 points -> draw into first and second.
The games were obviously closer than some of my snappy comments make them appear and were actually fun to play out (well, the one involving B2B really
wasn’t. That card is just nuts). Over all though, the Hawk plus cantrip engine is just insanely good at giving you what you need when you need it. I’ll
definitely continue running it (Well, I might give the Buried Alive deck a shot if I can get the cards together. So many sweet interactions!). The next
issue to address now will be Fire-Grove, I think (if people start playing it more, as they should). The engine is just incredible at the moment and
like most other control-decks I’m pretty cold to it, so I guess I’ll have to find some plan other than ‘hope B2B sticks’ to deal with that.