Eternal Europe – Hybrids: The Future, Today?

Carsten Kotter predicts that in a year or two, Legacy will not have any viable linear-strategy decks. It’s not just Mental Misstep’s fault either! Read why hybrid is the way of the future.

Do you want twice the power for the same effort? Do you want to get ahead for free? Do you want to save energy and gain speed? Then a hybrid may be the thing you’re looking for!

No, don’t worry, there isn’t any big car company sponsoring me now (I wish). I’m still talking cards not cars. Still, hybrids are on my mind. Some of the developments that have happened over the last year in Legacy remind me of 2003 Vintage—a year after the format had really taken off and the year hybridization revolutionized that format.

Before then, we played Keeper (sample decklist after the first third of the article), a true control deck that would win with Morphling beatdown after achieving overwhelming card advantage; combo decks like Turbo Nevin (check the fifth place) that relied on speed to overwhelm the opposition (yes, it was a different time when turn-three combo was actually relevant to the format); and aggressive decks along the lines of Zoo, Sligh, and Workshop Aggro (which tried to bash your face in with turn one and two Juggernauts and Su-Chi).

Sure, some control decks already incorporated a Grim Monolith and a Power Artifact to turn their draw engines (Braingeyser and Stroke of Genius, of all things) into win conditions. Tools’N’Tubbies (TNT for short, see the end of the article for the decklist) could achieve combo-esque draws by dumping Anger and Wonder into its graveyard followed by fetching up a never-ending stream of Goblin Welders and Triskelions. By and large, though, you could easily figure out if you were in for a long and grinding fight against a control deck or would have to compete with a powerful beatdown strategy after the first turns of the game. All that changed when people really put their minds to finding new ways to break the format.

Beginning with the KrOathan sideboard (four Oath of Druids and a Krosan Reclamation*), control decks started to change first. Instead of really trying to control the game against aggressive decks, they turned into faux combo to just race them.

*The plan being to just turn into a creatureless Oath combo deck against any kind of aggro deck, milling yourself out on the following upkeep and flashing back Reclamation on Yawgmoth’s Will to win by assembling Grim Power from the graveyard. Yes, this all happened before Scourge, and with it Tendrils of Agony forever revolutionized the nature of combo decks.

Soon after Gro-A-Tog gave the format a full-blown aggro-combo-control deck and we (Team CAB) developed “The Shining” (see third place for the raw, pre-Tendrils version), a Future Sight/Burning Wish based control deck that just happened to be able to win on turn three to four because it drew so many cards.

It wasn’t only control that incorporated combo elements. Workshop decks started playing Illusionary Mask to cheat Phyrexian Dreadnaught into play after playing Trinisphere; Madness incorporated the Worldgorger Dragon combo; and Goblins incorporated Food Chain to win as early as turn two. The rest is history.

Mirrodin and Darksteel turned Goblin Welder into a recurring Mindslaver machine, and Gifts Ungiven finally gave us an engine that allowed for control decks to just win out of nowhere with minimal resources and revealed the true power of Merchant Scroll. Ever since that fateful spring of 2003, true control was dead in Vintage (though it saw some play, including by yours truly, fueled by Isochron Scepter or Skeletal Scrying—never for long though). As a result, purely aggressive decks lost any reason to exist and adopted control elements, either the prison pieces of Stax decks, discard, or their own countermagic. The only pure deck archetype still putting up any results was fast combo; the rest were all hybrids.

Hybridization Live

This stroll down memory lane should make it obvious what I mean when I’m talking about hybrid decks: decks that can perfectly execute one regular game plan but have the ability to do something totally different—often a low-commitment combo-finish—essentially out of nowhere.

While the Survival decks that dominated the format until last December were definitely hybrid decks (shoving the Survival-Vengevine engine into aggro-control—U/G—or aggro—G/W—shells), we’re past the history lesson part of the article already. One current deck that exemplifies how hybridization works perfectly is the Junk Depths deck that did well during the July and August StarCityGames.com Opens:

By playing totally reasonable cards (Knight of the Reliquary, Vampire Hexmage, and Living Wish), the deck was able, from a variety of positions, to suddenly pop out a 20/20 flier and end the game instead of trying to grind out a long game in typical Junk fashion.

Others have used Stoneforge Mystic to graft a Thopter-Swords endgame into something that bears a strong resemblance to B/W Stoneforge. Take a look at this deck my teammate Maxim Barkman has been testing:

The quality of this deck’s two-drops is pretty amazing, but the normal creature drops can get outclassed as the game goes long. By grafting on the Thopter combo, you suddenly have a late-game trump to find with all the library manipulation. As a sweet bonus, if your opponent plans to deal with the Stoneforge Mystic instead of countering it, they might just be screwed because there’s a Foundry waiting in the wings.

The premier deck benefiting from hybridization at the moment has to be NO RUG, though. As I said when I first reviewed the deck after Reid Duke put it on the map, this is the first full-blown aggro-combo-control deck Legacy has seen. It can fluently change roles, giving its pilot the ability to adapt their play and strategy to almost everything the opponent throws at them while also strengthening whichever plan is most relevant in the matchup post-board.

I won’t really talk about what the deck does, as other, more qualified players already have done so extensively already (here for example). Just note that it is the ultimate hybrid deck in the format so far, and that is one of the big reasons it is so good.

As far as single cards are concerned, Jace, the Mind Sculptor is introducing effective if not classic hybridization in control decks all on his lonesome. I mean, I’ve been playing Jace religiously ever since Worldwake became legal, and I can still count the games I lost after untapping with a Jace in play on one hand. Sure sounds like a combo kill, doesn’t it? 

These examples only scratch the surface, anyway. Trinket Mage into Phyrexian Dreadnaught, Fauna Shaman and Buried Alive setting up a graveyard-fueled creature assault or instant win with the Necrotic Ooze combo out of a B/G aggro shell—the possibilities are endless. Even Merfolk gets draws that feel like combo when they get multiple Reejereys down (in a way that feels quite similar to the Incarnation-fueled Welder chains of TNT).

Going Hybrid

What’s the reason I’m telling you about Vintage history and showing you how a large number of good decks are, at least essentially, hybrid decks? To make it clear that the results we’re seeing lately are more than just a result of Mental Misstep warping the metagame. They’re the result of a large number of capable players constantly working on a large, high-power format, a process Vintage already went through and which we should learn from.

I’m quite sure if they banned Mental Misstep tomorrow (or the 20th, more likely), the format wouldn’t suddenly go back to what it looked like pre-Survival. Sure, when Survival was banned, we went back to a format full of Vial decks and some control for about a month (the same return to tried and true strategies happened in Vintage after restrictions or other metagame shake-ups, as mentioned), but a month later other decks were already picking up speed and pushing most of the single strategy non-combo decks out of top eights.

That metagame never got to play out fully because New Phyrexia changed so much, but how would not having Batterskull, Jin-Gitaxias, and Mental Misstep make NO RUG (which actually predates Misstep, for whatever that’s worth) or Junk Depths any less of a deck? In a metagame with more of the decks that were allegedly killed by Misstep, spending a slot or three to add a whole new dimension to your deck with a combo kill seems actually much stronger, not worse. It’s too late to go back now. Pandora’s box has been opened, and we’re going to have to deal with it.

So how do you adapt to a format full of hybridized strategies? The answer I can give you so far stems from what I learned in Vintage and may seem somewhat absurd at first sight: Hybridize yourself or play pure combo. The latter approach works because, whatever the plan the opposition might splice onto their regular plan, they’re not going to be as consistently fast or resilient at implementing it as a deck built around doing exactly one broken thing. When you’re faster, the opponent’s angle of attack doesn’t really matter; only their defensive capabilities do. Once this is understood, the implementation becomes deck-specific so I won’t talk about that today.

As far as hybridizing yourself is concerned, that doesn’t mean everybody suddenly needs a way to combo on turn three. Instead you’ll have to let go of the idea that a single game plan is enough as long as it is consistent enough. G/W Maverick (which has finally put in a performance at an Open) is a good example for this.

While the deck is close to a pure midrange aggro deck, the flexibility of Green Sun’s Zenith and Knight of the Reliquary allows it to play a very reasonable prison game should the situation demand it. Between Mental Misstep and a brilliant hatebear suite of Qasali Pridemage, Gaddock Teeg, Scavenging Ooze, and Aven Mindcensor, there is no (relevant) part of the game the deck can’t somehow interact with. Maverick may look like a creature-saturated beatdown machine, but it can play “cage the opponent” with the best of them if it needs to.

If this still isn’t aggressive enough for your tastes, how about giving Zoo an actual control bent? (Decklist courtesy of Hanni on mtgthesource.)

Duals plus fetchlands let you do some crazy things, right? While this definitely isn’t my style of deck, it sure can spit out hyper-aggressive starts and end the game with burn on turn four like fast Zoo does. At the same time, though, you can play the deck as an aggro-control deck, dropping a threat or two while using free countermagic to stall long enough for said threat to go the distance. Post-board, Force of Will lets you strengthen the aggro-control aspect while Submerge will help carve an attack path through annoying blockers (as most decks that have unburnable creatures in them tend to also have Forest).

Now I’m not suggesting the list is perfect. The sideboard looks sketchy to me, and nineteen lands seem a little low to get full value out of Steppe Lynx—not to mention that Kird Ape feels extremely weak—but there is definitely a foundation here that actually frightens me (when I imagine sitting on the other side of the table). 

For a different shape hybridization can take, look at my Caw Cartel article. While the end result is a deck that plays a hard control game, I created it by hybridizing the cantrip engine that fuels ANT and High Tide into a control shell. The result is a control deck that, in actual gameplay, behaves a lot like one of these hyper-consistent combo decks. Essentially, you’re playing a combo deck that trades the instant win factor of a true combo finish for the right to turn its combo pieces into interactive cards like Swords to Plowshares and Force of Will.

These are just some easy examples of what hybridized decks for the new format (and make no mistake, this is a very different format from Legacy a year ago) might look like. If history is any indicator, there is a ton more out there, just waiting to be found. Not to mention how many more will crop up with any new set that sees print.


As if it wasn’t clear from what you’ve just read, I’m convinced hybridization is the future of the Legacy format. I fully expect that a year or maybe two from now, we won’t be seeing (successful) decks other than combo that can only play a single type of game. I for one cherish this kind of environment, where you can never be a hundred percent sure what your opponent is up to, where games always move along multiple axes, and where some heretofore unknown innovation in the opponent’s list can totally sidestep your carefully laid defenses. If you don’t, well, you’re free to try and prove me wrong by building a totally single-minded deck that shrugs off any angle of attack the opponent might care to try out. I won’t hold my breath for it, though.

That’s it for today; I hope you enjoyed the lesson in applied history. Until next time add an extra dimension to what you do!