Invitational Recommendation #1: Small Creatures

Legacy mastermind Drew Levin would like to advise you to play a few little guys at #SCGINVI. If you think the supposedly consistent Delver of Secrets qualifies as one of them, you’d better guess again…

Europeans are flat out better at Legacy than Americans. I don’t mean on a gameplay level – I don’t think that the waters of the Rhine or the Seine or the
Tiber cause people to play Magic better. I mean that they are more familiar with this format than Americans, they have thought about it more, and they
understand it on a deeper level. Whenever I am lost, I look across the ocean at what American Legacy will look like in six to twelve months.

Every time I look at their metagame, I think two things:

1. Wow, that’s a lot of anti-Delver stuff.

2. Europeans sure do like their combo decks.

Every time I look at the American metagame, I think two things:

1. Wow, that’s a lot of Delver of Secrets.

2. If you asked the Top 8 what they think is the best deck in the format, you would get at least five different answers.

Like I said, completely different targets. And it has created two huge Legacy ecosystems that look basically nothing alike. For reference, the Top 8 of the
most recent Bazaar of Moxen – which clocked in at 535 participants – contained zero Delver of Secrets.

It contained more copies of basic Plains than Brainstorms. I don’t care that one Death and Taxes deck covers three blue decks – there were 26 basic Plains
spread across five decks in the Top 8. There were sixteen Brainstorms. A few years ago, plenty of people would have argued for basic Plains as the worst
card in the format. A few years ago, people called for the banning of Brainstorm. It’s still very good. It’s not the be-all, end-all of the format. Europe
has taught us that.

Want to know when playing eleven Plains became fashionable outside of Craig Wescoe’s front door? I can point to a single tournament – in Europe, of course
– that created the worldwide phenomenon of white creatures and Aether Vials.

Thomas Enevoldsen may not have invented the deck, but he indisputably popularized it across American kitchen tables. His Grand Prix Strasbourg win in April
2013 gave Americans the tools to break the stranglehold that Sneak and Show had on the format. Despite predictions that Sneak and Show would be the deck of
Grand Prix Washington DC in November 2013, it put exactly as many copies into the Top 8 as did Death and Taxes.

European metagame development has given Americans the tools to solve their own problems many times over. If you think that Delver of Secrets is your best
choice this weekend, you are wrong. I would not play a deck with four Delver of Secrets at the Invitational if you paid for my flight and hotel in
Columbus. I think that those decks are too susceptible to proactive strategies with ways to beat Daze and mana denial.

I’ve been writing this article for almost a week at this point, but I’m a little disappointed that it has to follow the 1-2 finish of Dave Shiels and Ross
Merriam. My recommendations for the Invitational, you see, are Elves and Death and Taxes.

“Wait. You’re seriously telling us that you would willingly not sleeve up Brainstorm at a tournament for tens of thousands of dollars? Snap call.

I would. I don’t think that people respect small creatures with activated abilities. Come back to me when you have some Cursed Totems and Toxic Deluges and
Punishing Fires. For now, I doubt your commitment to beating these decks.

“But Brainstorm is skill-intensive! It affords me meaningful decisions that affect the game! I can outplay my opponent with Brainstorm!

You can also outplay your opponent with a board of five different creatures with activated abilities. You can outgun your opponent with Glimpse of Nature.
You can overpower your opponent with Natural Order into Craterhoof Behemoth. Winning games by “outplaying” your opponent is a masturbatory fantasy born of
the worst sort of intellectual snobbery. Want to know how to win games? Play the best deck. Play it better than anyone else. Learn how to win games with
it. Learn what to do in every circumstance.

Elves and Death and Taxes share a characteristic that I believe is very important: a lot of their creatures have activated abilities. Elves has the ability
to play an incredibly long, grindy game with a lot of creature abilities getting activated. It can also win on turn 2 or 3. Learning when and how to
prolong the game and when to try to close quickly is a skill, too – it just happens to be spread across half a dozen cards instead of confined to the
resolution of a single one.

Perhaps it is the legacy of Extended-era Elves, but few people seem to realize that Elves is about as much a Glimpse of Nature combo deck as Dredge is a
Breakthrough combo deck. Both decks can use those cards to effectively win the game on turn 2, but they each possess the capacity to leverage their
powerful cards over a far longer time frame. A skilled pilot of either deck will realize when the game needs to be longer and when it needs to be shorter.

Does Terminus exist? For sure. Is it good against Elves and Death and Taxes? No doubt. But it exists far more on the other side of the pond than it does in
the United States. UWR Miracles is consistently underplayed in America relative to its power level. When the metagame lacks real Delver-antagonistic
strategies, of course Delver of Secrets is going to do well.

Providence looked more like a European tournament than many American tournaments. The Top 8 had a copy of Elves, two copies of Death and Taxes, two combo
decks, and three Delver of Secrets decks. There is still a ton of upside for anyone who wants to sleeve up three or four identical Legendary Lands this
Friday – you get to prey on all of the Delver players who didn’t get the memo!

In all seriousness though, let’s talk about why Elves and Death and Taxes are two of the best decks for the Invitational right now.

Despite everything that you’ve heard about Delver decks being super hard to play, a ton of people are going to play Delver decks in Columbus. They’re going
to have bad mana, soft counters, and probably some discard spells. How do these decks exploit that?

Death and Taxes eats bad manabases for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Between its ten or eleven basic Plains, quad Rishadan Port, quad Wasteland, Aven
Mindcensor, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, it can shut out plenty of decks that want to cast a dazzling array of spells. If you get flooded, you might
just lose to three-power fliers. If you get manascrewed, you might just lose to Rishadan Port. Your range of playable draws is narrower against Death and
Taxes than you might think. People hate mulliganing in Legacy, and Death and Taxes has plenty of ways to punish loose keeps.

Death and Taxes is also very strong against soft countermagic. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben excels against free and cheap spells, Aether Vial is one of the
best cards in the format against tempo decks, and the high basic land count means that getting Wastelanded and Dazed out of a game rarely happens.

Death and Taxes is probably at its worst against discard spells. Since it has so few ways of actually drawing cards, a well-placed Hymn to Tourach can
really throw a wrench in the works. If they have Stoneforge Mystic or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben on the play though, you might not be able to cast Hymn to
Tourach safely – or at all.

Elves, on the other hand, can’t really punish bad manabases. It can punish people who rely on Wasteland by playing multiple copies of basic Forest, but it
doesn’t have anything like Rishadan Port or Wasteland or Thalia to “get” people with.

It does, however, have a lot of opening hands where it can randomly kill you on turn 3. It turns out that when you have a bunch of one-mana creatures, a
land that adds mana equal to the number of creatures you control, and a four-mana spell that finds the best Overrun ever printed, there’s a lot of durdly
behavior that you can punish. If your opponent decides to tap out for some random three-drop, they might just be dead on the spot. Kept a slow hand that
didn’t develop on time? Dead. Miss a land drop? Dead, dead, dead.

Where Elves excels – and why I would recommend playing it over Death and Taxes if you have the time to learn it – is in the midgame. It’s not enough to
cast Stoneforge Mystic, find Umezawa’s Jitte, and put it on the board like some kind of Wonka Ticket. That doesn’t do a thing against an active Wirewood
Symbiote. Okay, so you cleared that one out? Fetch for Dryad Arbor, block, return it with Quirion Ranger. No counters for you. Oh, and Viridian Shaman your
Umezawa’s Jitte, thanks.

For actual literal years, people killed Heritage Druid on sight. It was the scariest creature they could think of in the Elves deck. Ten turns later, they
would lose to Wirewood Symbiote and Elvish Visionary doing their best impression of Ancestral Recall with buyback.

A lot of people have caught onto the fact that Wirewood Symbiote is insane. Many others have not. They will happily Lightning Bolt your Heritage Druid,
blissfully unaware of how crushed they’re going to be by Wirewood Symbiote and friends. Be the person with the green creatures, not the person with the
Lightning Bolts and Dazes. As it turns out, there are more green creatures where that one came from.

One of Elves’s most potent midgame tactics is the sandbagged Glimpse of Nature. Against decks with sweepers, you can play out your creatures slowly,
extracting value from each of them. Once they tap low for Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Shardless Agent or Liliana of the Veil, you can go off with Glimpse of
Natural or Natural Order for Craterhoof Behemoth or Green Sun’s Zenith for one [of half a dozen absurd Elves]. Between Elves’ eight “return a card to your
hand” one-drops and four Elvish Visionaries, your hand can stay about as full as you want it to. Just because you have a ton of mana available to you
doesn’t mean that you have to use it. After all, you are playing four copies of a card that rewards you for having creatures in your hand.
Figuring out which creatures (if any) you’re supposed to play is a constant challenge. Managing your land drops is also a big deal, since letting your only
Gaea’s Cradle get sniped by a Wasteland before you get to tap it for a ton of mana is pretty terrible.

Brainstorm isn’t the only thinking person’s card in Legacy. It’s just that many people don’t understand that “holding creatures” for Glimpse of Nature
isn’t that far away from “holding lands” for Brainstorm. Sure, you lose some utility up front, but you gain it back on the other side. The big difference
between those decision points is that sometimes, you aren’t supposed to hold back. Sometimes, Nettle Sentinel hits for ten points of damage over the course
of the game. Sometimes, you’re supposed to wait on it until you cast Glimpse of Nature.

Elves is difficult to play and sideboard with precisely because its cards so closely approximate each other’s functionality. There are a ton of cards that,
from a distance, basically just add mana. Whatever, they’re just 1/1s for one with an ability, right?

Okay, now tell me which ones to cut for Abrupt Decays against a deck with Chalice of the Void.

Tell me which ones to cut for Cabal Therapy and Thoughtseize against combo decks.

Tough, right? Probably a lot tougher than sideboarding out Lightning Bolt against Storm and sideboarding out Force of Will against Jund?

Don’t let me deter you from playing Elves. Yes, it’s difficult to play. I make no bones about that. But it has a track record. Let me show you.

In May 2013, Elves finished second at the Bazaar of Moxen:

In November 2013, Elves won the Bazaar of Moxen in the hands of Julian Knab:

Later in November 2013, Elves Top 8ed Grand Prix: DC in the hands of Andrew Cuneo:

More recently, Elves Top 4’d the Bazaar of Moxen through a field of (next article spoiler alert!) Toxic Deluges and Punishing Fires and Terminuses in the
hands of Meciek Berger:

A few weeks after that, Elves won the SCG Open in Indianapolis in the hands of Riley Curran:

This past weekend in Providence, Ross Merriam came within a match away from joining Gerry Thompson’s as-yet-solo Open Weekend Champion club:

It is worth noting, for those of you who don’t want to play Elves, that Death and Taxes beat Ross in Providence, that Julian beat Death and Taxes to win
the Bazaar of Moxen, that Death and Taxes lost in the finals of the most recent Bazaar of Moxen, and that Death and Taxes also Top 8ed Grand Prix DC in the
hands of Craig Wescoe. Those lists can be found below.

Although there is no consensus way to build either deck, there are clear consensus cards in each list. I trust you to discern the difference between Mirran
Crusader and Brimaz, King of Oreskos (one is good against Abrupt Decay, the other is good against Lightning Bolt! Insightful!), so I’ll cut to the chase
with each deck:

For Elves, I would go up to three basic lands to have better odds against Wasteland, play no white or blue sources, and play only Viridian Shamans as
creature-ways of killing Umezawa’s Jitte. I would play a maindeck Ruric Thar, the Unbowed to beat various combo decks. I would maindeck two Craterhoof
Behemoths. I would not play four Heritage Druids – they’re the worst cards in attrition-oriented games where you don’t get a ton of critical mass. I would
play at least one Birchlore Rangers and would try to play two so as to maximize the power of Glimpse of Nature. I would play one copy of either Elvish
Mystic, Llanowar Elves, or Fyndhorn Elves. I would playtest a lot to figure out when to shove, when to toe the line, and when to play for the long game.

For Death and Taxes, I would play multiple Spirit of the Labyrinth. I would maindeck a Batterskull. I would not play a Flagstones of Trokair. I would
sideboard some Cataclysms or Armageddons, but probably Cataclysms. I would play a mix of three-drops and hope to draw the correct copy in every matchup –
one Aven Mindcensor, one Brimaz, one Mirran Crusader, four Flickerwisp, and get lucky. I would build my sideboard using the most recent Bazaar of Moxen
list as a starting point. I would keep Veteran Armorer in mind.

If you really, really don’t want to play small creatures, though, I’ll be back later this week with a few control decks designed specifically to beat the
little nuisances. Until then, I recommend securing your set of Toxic Deluges while you still can.