Ideas Unbound – The Next Evolution in Legacy Beatdown

Wednesday, December 8th – Read about Max’s development of a new Junk variant for Legacy. Look, Ma, no blue mana!

I played Goblins the other day.

I know, right? I’m the guy who has taken up permanent residence on rooftops because that makes it easier to shout at passers-by about how bad the aggro decks are in Legacy. I’m forever spouting off about how people who don’t have Force of Will in their deck are getting what they deserve when their opponent plays Survival of the Fittest or Tendrils of Agony on turn 2.

And I played Goblins. And I enjoyed it. It felt like good, clean living. You play your mans and grind games out for a while and then attack for a whole bunch. Honest work.

(In the interest of full disclosure, what actually happened is that I was at a local community college that was running drafts and Constructed eight-mans all day. I showed up late with no intention of playing, but how is a man supposed to resist seven in the queue?)

While battling, I happened to play against Survival of the Fittest, and I realized that I was winning the games where I had a very aggressive draw or when I shut down the Survival engine with Pithing Needle. I filed that information away for later.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that whenever I have Dark Confidant in play, I almost feel sorry for my opponent because of how far behind he is. And whenever the other guy has The Great One, I’m terrified; I want to kill the Confidant or my opponent immediately because I know that I’m about to be buried in a stream of card disadvantage.

This got me thinking about the best ways to abuse Dark Confidant in Legacy. I’ve been working on various brews for the past few days, and I’ve come up with a Junk variant that’s pretty awesome.

Dark Confidant is sweet because he’s a constant source of threats and disruption. In fact, I’ve found that some of my beatdown decks get bottlenecked on mana, rather than on threats, when playing Confidant. With most Junk-esque disruptive beatdown decks, you want to be casting discard and threats and using Wasteland all at the same time. The problem is that you don’t have enough mana to do all of these things at once. The Junk decks really need to be playing multiple spells per turn in order to really execute their game plan.

Enter Lotus Cobra.

With Cobra, you’re never short on mana. You can play Cobra on 2 and play Wasteland plus Vindicate on 3. Or you can play a fetchland and play Knight of the Reliquary plus Dark Confidant. Or play Thoughtseize while playing another threat. And so on.

My first fear was that Cobra wasn’t going to actually add any value to how quickly the deck disrupted the opponent. After all, if you play Cobra on 2 and then play Tidehollow Sculler plus Knight of the Reliquary on turn 3, that’s not too much different from playing Sculler on 2 and Knight on 3; you just have an extra 2/1 in play.

However, I’ve noticed that a lot of these Junk decks struggle with the fact that they’re not really doing a whole lot while they’re disrupting the opponent. Junk decks need a threat in play to take advantage of all of the time their Thoughtseizes are buying, and chipping away with bears is actually a perfectly valid strategy. It’s also not uncommon to take a line that plays Cobra on 3 before playing a land and another spell in the matchups where you really do need to get off as much disruption as possible as quickly as possible.

About not having Force of Will: The reason that I’m constantly harping on decks that don’t have Force of Will is because the fundamental turn in Legacy
is turn 2. Once Survival untaps with Survival in play, you’re in a whole lot of trouble. If you’re playing against Tendrils,
you might not get a second turn


Because of this, it’s

that your deck present meaningful interaction on turn 1. The stock card for early interaction is Force of Will. People usually wave away the extra cost of Force of Will. “So it costs a card, who cares? Stopping whatever insanity your opponent is trying to pull is worth it.” The thing is most Force of Will decks have control elements. Typically, the best cards in control decks are blue. So after casting Force of Will, not only are you down a card, but it’s one of your better cards, and now you’re going to have to grind out several turns with that disadvantage. This is why Force of Will is so good in combo decks; the other guy is dead before the card disadvantage matters.

However, Force isn’t the only way to interact on turn 1.

Have you ever kept a loose hand and been embarrassed when your opponent casts Thoughtseize on turn 1? Look at how linear all of the top decks in Legacy are right now. They have to keep a lot of hands that revolve around one key card. Stripping that card with discard is incredibly powerful, although you do run the risk of casting Thoughtseize on the draw and looking at double Survival of the Fittest. Such is life.

The mana curve here is pretty tight. You really want to be casting discard on turn 1 and some insane bear on turn 2. Turn 3 is either another bear plus more disruption or Vindicate or Knight of the Reliquary. Twenty-four lands ensure that you don’t need to rely on your Wastelands for mana and can freely target enemy duals; they also make sure that your Cobras keep adding value. The mana base is constructed so that there’s reasonable access to all three basics plus enough fetchlands to make Lotus Cobra happy. There’s also a small toolbox for Knight of the Reliquary; Karakas is basically free, Horizon Canopy makes sure you don’t flood out, and Bojuka Bog is an ace against lazy Survival players.

Aside from Lotus Cobra, the other new kid on the block is Tidehollow Sculler. Sculler acts as additional disruption while simultaneously being a threat. I’m not sure why he’s not more of a staple in disruptive beatdown decks, to be honest; a Thoughtseize into Sculler is pretty tough to beat.

I don’t pay enough attention to stock Junk lists to know if Inquisition of Kozilek is stock over Duress yet. Functionally, the differences between Duress and Inquisition are that Inquisition can’t get Force of Will or Ad Nauseam, while Duress can’t get Fauna Shaman, Tarmogoyf, or a Merfolk lord. I’m pretty okay with my opponent casting Force of Will when I’m a beatdown deck, so I’ve given the nod to Inquisition here.

You might look at the sideboarding notes below and wonder, “In a format dominated by Survival and with so much tribal aggro, why is Vindicate in the main when you board it out against those decks?”

For a few reasons. For one thing, Vindicate is perfectly fine against Survival when you win the roll. You fall behind on tempo slightly when you Vindicate their Survival or their Fauna Shaman, but their engine is so critical to their deck’s functionality that it’s well worth losing a mana. Vindicate is also pretty good against Zoo and other midrange decks. However, it’s Vindicate’s general versatility that makes it worth the slot. Junk decks can’t really be configured against the field at large in game 1. Pithing Needle is a valid maindeck card in Legacy, but Junk isn’t really a deck that can afford to just jam four Needles main. Instead, Junk has to be configured with an eye towards having okay matchups in game 1 before having a well-tuned monster in games 2 and 3.



-3 Vindicate -1 Tarmogoyf +4 Pithing Needle

If Survival doesn’t play a Survival on turn 2, or if you can kill it or Needle it, you’re in very good shape. If they start chaining Vengevines, you’re probably going to lose. Because of this, most games are blowouts one way or the other. If you have Duress on the draw, and they respond with Enlightened Tutor, well, that sucks. If you Thoughtseize them and then Plow their Fauna Shaman, you probably win. Tarmogoyf is the worst bear on turn 2, so it gets cut after sideboarding.

Fighting Survival is best done by fighting their engine, not their graveyard. Extirpate is fine, but they’ll just Survival up Mesmeric Fiend and strip your Extirpate if they have to. It’s better to shut down Survival altogether. You need to be aware that your Needles can be answered by Nature’s Claim or Enlightened Tutor for Seal of Cleansing, but hopefully the Needles can buy you enough time to close out the game. Be very aggressive about using Plow on their mana creatures if you don’t need to fight Shaman; with Plow and Wasteland you can choke them on mana long enough to overwhelm Survival with bears.


-4 Swords to Plowshares +1 Mindbreak Trap +2 Gaddock Teeg +1 Pithing Needle.

The hate package against Tendrils is diversified, so that they’re forced to bring in their bounce as well as keep in all of their hand disruption. Mindbreak Trap is a little worse against versions of Tendrils with Orim’s Chants as well as anyone who has Xantid Swarm expecting you to bench the Plows. (Trap is better than another Duress in the board because mana can be tight early.) The matchup is essentially a race, with Junk trying to keep Tendrils off-balance long enough to win. If you aren’t casting disruption on turn 1, you should probably mulligan. Go ahead and name Polluted Delta with the Pithing Needle and try to get a free win that way. The matchup is not that great if Tendrils is aware of what they’re doing and can hide key cards from your disruption, but I would say Junk is favored if it casts three disruption spells by turn 3 with a clock in play.


-3 Vindicate -2 Duress +3 Umezawa’s Jitte +2 Pithing Needle

If you get hit by Lackey, you’re probably going to lose, but if you don’t, containing Goblins isn’t too hard. Mana disruption is actually quite powerful against Goblins; if they can only cast one or two spells per turn, containing the swarm isn’t that difficult. Be aggressive with Wasteland, and go after their Vials with Needle. Path to Exile stays on the bench because ramping Goblins up to Siege-Gang Commander mana is a bad deal. Once you get counters on an Umezawa’s Jitte, Goblins is usually dead; just make sure that you don’t move in on a Jitte and get blown out by Gempalm Incinerator. I like Jitte over Engineered Plague because Goblins can function as a deck through one Plague, and Jitte is more effective against Merfolk.


Can’t win, but it’s a well-known fact that Dredge sucks, and no one plays it, so no worries!


-3 Vindicate -2 Duress -4 Thoughtseize +3 Umezawa’s Jitte +3 Pithing Needle +3 Path to Exile

All of Merfolk’s creatures are pretty abysmal unless they have multiple lords in play, so just be aggressive about forcing trades and using removal, and the matchup is pretty easy. After boarding, you have a package similar to what you’ve got against Goblins, except that Merfolk can’t do a whole lot with excess mana, so you bring in Path for their lords and an extra Pithing Needle because of Mutavault and Coralhelm Commander in addition to their Aether Vials.


-2 Duress -4 Thoughtseize -2 Tidehollow Sculler +3 Path to Exile +2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant +3 Umezawa’s Jitte

The Zoo matchup is pretty much all about attrition. If you can stabilize behind Tarmogoyf or Knight of the Reliquary, you’ll probably win, but if they have a big man you’re probably in trouble. If no one has a Tarmogoyf or Knight, you’re probably behind because their Wild Nacatls and Loam Lions outclass all of your bears. Fortunately, Junk has a ton of removal after boarding, plus a huge trump in the form of Elspeth. With Elspeth, if you’re behind, you can block for days, and if you’re at parity, you can end the game in a hurry by going to the skies.

(I tried boarding a Sejiri Steppe for Knight of the Reliquary, but you have to pick between Bojuka Bog and Sejiri Steppe for the maindeck, and Sejiri Steppe isn’t high-impact enough for the sideboard. It’s fairly uncommon that you get to blow your opponent out on a Path to Exile with your Knight. Usually they’ll just Path your Knight while it’s summoning sick.)


Sideboarding against Counterbalance is kind of fluid. You want the Elspeths, and you might want a few copies of Pithing Needle, but figuring out the cuts can be tricky. Against the Thopter lists, for example, Swords to Plowshares is a pretty easy cut, but you need Plow to break through against decks with Tarmogoyf. Vindicate is important for destroying Counterbalance, so you can’t cut that, and the discard is quite effective at stopping Counterbalance and Jace, the Mind Sculptor from coming down. Typically, I’d cut some Inquisitions to find the room I wanted.

The matchup is pretty reasonable. Counterbalance has a hard time containing all of the discard and the creatures while setting up the lock, so you can usually either be ahead on the board by the time they assemble Counterbalance with Sensei’s Divining Top, or you can grind out a long game without having to fear being locked. Elspeth is pretty backbreaking after sideboarding; she’s my favorite answer to Jace. Try to bait out some Plows with your lesser creatures before exposing Dark Confidant.

It’s pretty rare for me to endorse a beatdown deck that doesn’t have Force of Will, but this Junk deck is actually quite solid. Junk is a nice alternative if you’re tired of playing combo decks. The deck has reasonable matchups across the board, and you can tune the sideboard to beat pretty much whatever you want. It’s also a lot of fun to play. Give it a shot.

Max McCall
max dot mccall at gmail dot com