With GP Providence coming up and Mental Misstep having the impact many predicted, it seems like a comprehensive guide to this new metagame is in order.
Delivering this in a single article is pretty much impossible, especially with so few events to draw from. Instead, I’ll share a number of different
considerations that I feel cover much of what’s important for the GP. No, it’s probably not exactly everything you need to know, but it should
come close. There will be decklists new and old, metagame discussion, in-game advice, single card tech, and all kinds of other things. As a result,
things might appear to be somewhat all over the place. I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway. Much to do, not much timeâ€”so let’s get to it!
First, I suggest you take a look at the Top 16 decklists from each of these three tournaments:
StarCityGames Open Orlando
— 146 players
StarCityGames Open Louisville
— 203 players
Bazaar of Moxen 2011
(BOM in the following) — 633 players
The Big Three
There seem to be three big winners as a result of New Phyrexia giving Legacy an overhaul:
Merfolk is back with a vengeance, unsurprising in the light of what Mental Misstep does for the mermen. It stops Swords to Plowshares and Lightning
Bolt, allows them to better defend against highly aggressive draws, and gives them more truly effective ways to interact with the stack. That being
said, I believe that the high Merfolk saturation we’re seeing is more a function of attendance than anything else. Everybody knew Mental Misstep was
going to be awesome and that it would fit into Merfolk extremely well, so people showed up with the deck.
I don’t have the actual numbers, but it seems to me that Merfolk was by far the most represented deck in these tournaments, something I’d expect to
carry over to the GP. The deck is comparatively cheap (Force of Will and Wasteland being responsible for the bulk of the deck’s cost) and very good, so
Providence will likely look like the release of The Little Mermaid all over again.
The second big gainer in the new metagame is BUG Control, often labeled Team America, though originally that moniker was reserved for a tempo deck of
the same colors that aggressively ended the game with Tombstalker and Tarmogoyf after Stifling your fetchlands. The deck has integrated Misstep in both
forms, though the power of Dark Confidant protected by Misstep pulls me toward the more draw-oriented versions featuring Bob Maher, Jr. Controlling the
early game using extremely cheap countermagic before grinding the opponent out with Hymn to Tourachs has rarely looked as enticing (and it was
extremely solid beforehand already).
The real winner post-Misstep is classic blue control, though, especially the Landstill shell (abusing Standstill with the help of manlands like
Mishra’s Factory). Outshone by tempo and Counterbalance strategies for years, blue decks that plan to win by outdrawing the opponent now have the
necessary speed to keep up with Legacy’s blisteringly fast early game. They’re also far better equipped to handle Mental Misstep’s biggest
downsideâ€”its unimpressive performance when drawn lateâ€”thanks to Brainstorm and the sheer volume of cards they get to see as the game draws
The Achilles’ heel of these decks has always been Aether Vial and combo, both problems that Mental Misstep addresses admirably. Against the former,
these decks now have eight outs even on the draw; against the latter, the greater countermagic saturation provided by Misstep makes it possible for
them to actually win disruption battles.* The result? Jace, the Mind Sculptor is slowly climbing up to its well-deserved position among Legacy’s most
*The transformative sideboard of the BUG Landstill list that won the BOM is particularly sweet, as it allows the deck to turn into BUG Aggro-Control
against combo post-sideboard while having the far superior aggro matchup of BUG Landstill maindeck. Partial transformations can also provide excellent
value if you know the deck well, and best of all, the ability to go aggro post-board makes it much more likely that you’ll manage to avoid timing out
in the more grindy matchups.
Legacy’s Major Threats
Speaking of threats, these are what I consider the major things your deck needs to be prepared for if you want to do well at Providence. There are,
essentially, three classes of threats in Legacy: the fair, the seemingly fair, and the decidedly unfair:
Wild Nacatl and Friends
Knight of the Reliquary
Stoneforge Mystic (and the swords he carries or delivers)
Goblin Lackey and Goblin Ringleader
The Seemingly Fair
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
The Decidedly Unfair
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Draw, discard Golgari Grave-Troll
Tendrils of Agony
The fair threats do what they’ve done since 1993, deploying creatures to bludgeon you to death before you’re ready to do anything about it. These decks
are always present, and if you aren’t ready to fight them, you’re in for a rude awakening.
As a side note, I’ve heard so many people going on about the death of Goblins as a result of Mental Misstep; I don’t believe a word of it. Sure, Mental
Misstep will cut off their early game and make those blow-out Lackey draws a much less regular occurrence. What people don’t realize is that Goblins is
actually excellent at beating up slower decks, Misstep or no, so if the trend towards a control-ish metagame continues, Goblins should be making a
comeback. They don’t need their enablers (the only thing Misstep actually interacts with) if you give them time to build up mana, and that’s exactly
what the new, slower breed of control does. I’ve been testing GerryT’s U/W Landstill list from Orlando, and the result isn’t pretty for the blue mage
if the Goblins player knows how to play against Standstill. Against Fish, the most important card for Goblins has always been Goblin Piledriver, at
least in my experience, and Misstep doesn’t do a thing to address that guy. Don’t sleep on the little green men, or they’ll pull you down into their
The seemingly fair threats are those that, on the surface, don’t break the game in half. Sure, they’re drawing extra cards and pulling ahead every
turn, but on the surface, you’re still playing a game of Magic. In truth, though, you’re dead once these threats survive a few turns; you just don’t
know it. If the opponent gets to untap with Jace in play, you should prepare for the rest of the game to resemble D.O.A. (just watch the first two minutes and twenty-two seconds). As beatable as they may seem
on first sight, if you can’t interact with them, you’ll inevitably go down.
The decidedly unfair threats are those that are clearly, well, unfair. When active, they usually end the game in short order. These are the kinds of
cards decks are built around, that make you jump through hoops to make them work, but if you do, the game usually just ends. If you can’t deal with
these cards, you won’t be happy with your performance by the end of the GP.
Interlude: Playing Against Standstill
When I was watching the Orlando coverage, I couldn’t help but feel that GerryT’s U/W list gained more from people having no idea how to play against
Standstill than anything else. Again and again, I saw people break Standstill rapidly only to be overpowered by the swath of answers they just handed
This approach is fine and dandy against Fish, as usually you don’t have time to sit around and wait, but against control decks featuring Standstill,
especially a list as threat- and bomb-light as Gerry’s, any deck that has a relevant late-game plan can just negate the Standstill by sitting around
(breaking Standstill at end of turn will help too, if your deck has the capacity).*
*Yes, I know this has often been considered a faulty approach in the past, but the amount of free countermagic now available should make you
reconsider. I’ve been having a lot of success with this approach in testing with a number of decks.
The whole situation plays out like this: whenever you break the Standstill, the control player will likely have a hand full of answers. As such, there
is absolutely no reason for you to try and push through it now if you don’t have at least one or, better, two backup plays at the ready. This
works best for Goblinsâ€”I rarely lose games with Goblins in testing where the opponent deploys a Standstill on an empty board as long as the
opposing deck doesn’t have trumps on the level of Moat or Humilityâ€”but works fine for a number of other decks that value having a lot of mana at
their disposal. The important thing here is patience. Don’t act before you’re threatened or ready to kill them through their full hand.
With Goblins, what happens is usually this: they play Standstill when I probably won’t win through the Ancestral right now, so I don’t play anything
but lands. Whenever the opponent drops a manland, I use Port or Wasteland to deal with it and prolong the game further, sculpting my hand towards one
perfect turn by drawing and discarding while making my land drops.
At some point, I have more than ten mana in play and cast something irrelevant, cracking the Standstill. My opponent draws up to ten, stops whatever I
played, and I pass the turn. Now he can either deploy a threat of his own, which will tie up some of his resources and make it difficult for him to
answer my perfect turn, or he discards back down to seven, making Standstill nothing but a transition into the deep late game. If you feel your deck
can beat a bunch of one-for-ones and a Jace late, this is an absolutely okay place to be.
Now, this is obviously not an option for decks that don’t really have a late game, but for those that do, it can be a very valid option, especially if
you have ways to break Standstill at instant speed (note that collecting a ton of burn in your hand in a deck like Zoo against an opponent with low
life qualifies). Just something to keep in mind.
The big three seem to be the clear beneficiaries of NPH, and there are a number of staple strategies that don’t seem to have been slowed down by the
new metagame (NO RUG, PainterStone, Dredge, and Junk, for example). That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for other
decks to shine, though. Here are some that haven’t gotten much press lately:
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Show and Tell
- 4 Force of Will
- 3 Intuition
- 2 Echoing Truth
- 2 Seething Song
- 3 Misdirection
- 4 Sneak Attack
- 3 Lotus Petal
- 4 Ponder
The reason this caught my eye? Johannes Gutbrod also made top 16
at the BoM with a nearly identical maindeck (He had Daze instead of Misdirection but was unhappy with them, planning to replace them with Misdirections
in the future. His sideboard had Diverts instead of the fourth Blast and the Wipe Aways, all very minor differences). These players arrived at their
decklists independently, which I usually see as a sign that they’re onto something.
An impressive showing by a comparatively minor archetype with a reasonably well-tuned listâ€”smells like a sleeper to me. Considering the deck
laughs at Mental Misstep, this seems like something that could do very well at the GP.
The big pull for this deck is that true combo is generally underrepresented at Grand Prix, for whatever reason (the article will be long enough without
me boring you with additional philosophical musings, I think), and Enchantress is good to insane against almost everything else. While Enchantress is
generally favored against all kinds of aggressive decks due to insane amounts of tutoring and the ability to lock out opponents, the redundancy of the
draw engine makes it a very powerful contender against other control decks. If you ever manage to stick the first Enchantress effect, the card
advantage will quickly spiral out of control, allowing you to keep the opponent from winning before you hardcast Emrakul on them. Conveniently, all the
important pieces ignore Misstep, making it virtually a dead card.
- 1 Forest
- 1 Wooded Foothills
- 4 Wasteland
- 4 Tropical Island
- 1 Bayou
- 1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- 1 Windswept Heath
- 4 Maze of Ith
- 3 Tranquil Thicket
- 1 Glacial Chasm
- 4 Rishadan Port
- 1 Riftstone Portal
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Academy Ruins
- 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- 3 Tolaria West
- 1 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
- 1 Creeping Tar Pit
- 2 Seismic Assault
- 3 Devastating Dreams
- 4 Mox Diamond
- 4 Chalice of the Void
- 2 Engineered Explosives
- 4 Life from the Loam
I’m mentioning these two decks together because the important feature both of these decks share is Life from the Loam in a shell that’s hell on wheels
for aggressive decks. Put simply, these decks have a draw engine that’s very hard for control decks to counteract, allowing them to prey on what has
succeeded in the new metagame so far. The biggest strike against them at the GP is that their games usually go long, so there’s a reasonable chance
that you accumulate draws. Also you really, really want to dodge the combo decks.Â
I’d probably cut a Mox Diamond or two for more Darksteel Citadelsâ€”with seventeen lands in the deck, the chance that Mox D actually accelerates
you is lower than the chance that you randomly lose from drawing Moxen instead of working manaâ€”but generally speaking, the blue Metalworker deck
seems well positioned. It dodges Misstep, has Chalice of the Void to lock out a number of decks (if Mental Misstep is that good, Chalice at one seems
like it should be solid, right?), and can do broken things with the best of them. If a turn 1 Metalworker survives, the game usually ends shortly
thereafter. If it dies, you’re probably curving Lodestone Golem into Wurmcoil Engine or Kuldotha Forgemaster soon enough anyway.
Also, you get to play with Karn Liberatedâ€”who could resist?
- 3 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 3 Quirion Ranger
- 3 Fyndhorn Elves
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Regal Force
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Joraga Warcaller
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
Elves was hot before Mental Misstep was printed, and the new kid on the block shouldn’t hurt it all that much. Sure, the deck has a ton of one-drops,
but most of them are interchangeable and easily compensated for by drops a little higher up the curve.
The key goal for any Elves build with Mental Misstep in the meta is to not build it as a Glimpse of Nature combo deck, as Glimpse and the
combo pieces that go with it (Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel) are particularly vulnerable.
Either the Intuition–Vengevine build above or a more aggro Elves version featuring Natural Order could pay huge
dividends. Both lists are very resilient to one-for-one interaction while still maintaining the potential to “go broken” against other creature decks.
Less Dead Than You Might Think
Speaking of combo, for some reason, people seem to believe that spell-based combo along the lines of Ad Nauseam or High Tide is dead now that Mental
Misstep makes the stack less hospitable, but I think they’re dead wrong.
To beat the new breed of control, all Ad Nauseam needs to do is add a Tendrils or two to its sideboard, and it should be fine. If half the opposing
deck is countermagic, building up to five or six lands, drawing your eighth card for the turn, and casting a protection spell or two (and having them
countered) followed by a bunch of zero-drop accelerators and the natural Tendrils should be easy post-board.
As for Merfolk, ANT was doing fine against Merfolk in skilled hands before Misstep was printed, and the new protection spell really isn’t all that
different from Spell Pierce here, except that it can’t actually touch your Lion’s Eye Diamonds and Infernal Tutors (hint: that’s a good thing).
High Tide on the other hand looks like it should quiver before the mighty Misstep. After all, it generally doesn’t win if it can’t resolve its namesake
card, which costs one. This ignores the fact that High Tide is actually one of the better shells to house Misstep itself, though. Look at this list
from the BoM:
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Force of Will
- 3 Meditate
- 3 Cunning Wish
- 1 Brain Freeze
- 4 Merchant Scroll
- 4 Turnabout
- 4 High Tide
- 4 Time Spiral
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Preordain
- 3 Mental Misstep
IÃ±aki was one of the pioneers of Spiral Tide on mtgthesource after Spiral was unbanned and has consistently done well with versions of the deck
that rely far too much on Brain Freeze for my liking (he actually plans on casting multiple Spirals, too, something I like to avoid as much as
possible). Nonetheless, his builds are battle-tested and extremely strong in the right hands.
As for me, I’d probably run something like this:
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Meditate
- 1 Intuition
- 2 Cunning Wish
- 4 Merchant Scroll
- 4 Turnabout
- 4 High Tide
- 4 Time Spiral
- 1 Pact of Negation
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Preordain
- 1 Blue Sun's Zenith
- 4 Mental Misstep
With Mental Misstep, the extra speed generated by untap effects other than Turnabout is generally unnecessary because you’ll have more time against
aggro. As a result, reaching four lands to safely go off with Zenith is much easier now. Adding to that, Stifle is largely being replaced by Mental
Misstep, and most matchups feel like they should get better, not worse. Having my lands killed has always been a much bigger problem than any
on-the-stack disruption anyway.
The truth of the matter is High Tide is not a real combo deck; it’s combo-control. If your opponent wants to play fifteen counterspells, let
him. You have a far superior search engine and will find the tools to overwhelm them. As the format gets slower, High Tide becomes better.
The real draw toward these two combo decks lies in the fact that Counterbalance seems to have vanished from the face of the earth, which was their
worst matchup by a fair margin. Sure, Misstep will cost you a number of games against random decks, but the overall win percentage in a slower metagame
without Counterbalance should actually be going up, not down.
Concerning the Zombie Legions
Just a short piece of advice for all the Dredge players out there: You should seriously consider going second if you win the die roll. The metagame at
the moment has a very large blue presence, and Misstep makes it very easy for opponents to stop your discard outlets. As such, I suspect Dredge will
want to use the draw, discard, dredge plan in about half its games at the very least, especially if the deck is built in a way that compensates for the
Tempo-loss involved. That being the case, starting with eight cards in hand seems like a good idea.
The Other Kinds of Sleepers
I’d like to finish with a number of cards that should be seeing much more play than they do. If you have decided what you’re going to play but are
still looking for that 60th or 72nd to 75th card that will give you that little extra edge you need, look no further.
Who wants it: decks that (can) play a basic Plains and have a way to win outside the combat phase.
I’ve been seeing countless numbers of Llawan, Cephalid Empress in people’s sideboards lately but nearly no Peacekeepers. That doesn’t make any sense!
Merfolk can work around Llawan using Aether Vial, but Peacekeeper with a basic Plains in play is as close to a GG as you can get without actually
winning. Just keep paying the upkeep until you can resolve a Jace or whatever your win condition is, and you should do fine. A four is much easier to
Daze than a three, too.
In addition to being a bigger blowout, Peacekeeper is also much more flexible than Llawan. It’s an answer to Emrakul (those decks usually have a lot of
trouble dealing with creatures) and Elves (same here); even most NO Bant and NO RUG decks will have a ton of trouble killing Peacekeeper through your
Missteps and assorted countermagic. Give this one a try; it’s extremely scoop-inducing.
Life from the Loam
Who wants it: Decks running green and Wasteland
Simply put, the current metagame is slow and control-heavy. Having access to even one or two Life from the Loams (even post-board) will allow you to
gain inevitability because of the Waste-lock in matchups you should have no business winning late game. This is something more decks should consider in
Back to Basics
Who wants it: Blue decks with lots of basics that don’t need their manlands
A card I praised last time that promptly won the following Open. All joking aside, B2B is backbreaking for a solid number of decks and crippling for at
least half the metagame. If your deck has a mana base that can support it, you should be playing it, at least in the board.
Who wants it: BUG
This guy is quite the beating against most control decks because they have very few outs to a 3/3 shroud. Sure, he’s Misstep-able, but so are many
cards. What exactly does a deck like GerryT’s U/W list do against him once resolved, though? The Mongoose seems so good currently that he alone might
push Canadian Threshold back to the forefront (combined with the fact that Dark Confidant does in fact die to Lightning Bolt and Fire / Ice).
Thrun, the Last Troll
Who wants it: At least worth trying out in the sideboard of almost any deck that can cast him
Most blue control decks have basically no way to win as long as you slam a Thrun. Jace can’t bounce it; they can’t counter it or target it; and it’ll
stick around through most removal effects that can even touch him. Sure, he gets invalidated by an opposing Tarmogoyf, but your deck should already
have copious ways to deal with that guy, otherwise you’re clearly doing it wrong.
Stoneforge Mystic already sees a ton of play and Thrun carrying a Sword of Fire and Ice is a beating on the level of Progenitusâ€”only he doesn’t
ask you to kill your own guys and won’t get blown out by countermagic. He might not be what Standard decks need to deal with Jace, but he sure looks
good in a format that has far fewer Titans and Squadron Hawks. Did I mention he can’t be countered yet?
Who wants it: decks that need an out to Progenitus/Emrakul
The “who wants it” says it all. Metamorph provides you with an answer to both combo-that-looks-like-a-fatty guys and has the additional
benefit of rarely being dead if they don’t get the big guys out (just copy one of yours and smash face). He also provides an incidental answer to the
aforementioned Thrun and seems like a solid bullet for an Enlightened Tutor sideboard if nothing else.
Who wants it: Any creature-based green deck that would have wanted Vindicate or Maelstrom Pulse before
I had to play against this in the last tournament I went to, and it was as annoying as I suspected it would be. The additional flexibility of turning
your things into Beasts at random times (especially when the opponentâ€”aka meâ€” just played Jace and bounced the only creature on the board)
is extremely valuable while the opponent’s 3/3 (I got one, once) is generally trumped by something large on the other side of the board.
The card’s instant speed just makes it very easy to set things up in a way that either makes giving away a 3/3 not a problem or having your own very
powerful (Vendilion Clique powerful). I’d strongly consider this in almost any deck that is interested in something that can both be a solution and a
threat but particularly in anything that plays Natural Order. It’s a removal spell for noncreature permanents that can also be used to turn on your
Order at end of turn!
Who wants it: Everybody that plays green but doesn’t get to play Brainstorm and even some of the decks that do
Against control, Sylvan Library is insane; it’s a free Top activation every turn coupled with an Ancestral Recall. Seems good. Did I mention that the
format is extremely control-heavy at the moment?
Against everything else, you’re either the control deck so you want card selection throughout the long game or you’re the aggressor and you should have
some life that can be traded in for a card or two. Either way, this will be good. Note that it also makes Swords to Plowshares suddenly have a real
If Zoo makes a showing, it will be on the back of this card, and decks like Junk could do much worse than to borrow some grimoires from the public
The Truth About Everything
Everything ends, and so does this article. Don’t catch a cold; don’t take the wrong plane; and don’t share your hotel room with more than ten people.
Drink enough, and take care to get a solid eight hours of sleep. More closely related to the actual cards, be prepared for Tribal and aggro in large
numbers, whether you believe those decks are good choices or not. People will play them in droves; they always do.
Let me know what you think is the truth about everything, which parts of everything I forgot, and particularly if you enjoyed reading this kind of
ordered chaos. Until next time, go win the GP (yes, all of you).