Learning From Legacy

Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Brian Kibler tells you about the lessons he learned at #GPDC, where he played Death and Taxes, so you can put them to good use at #SCGPROV.

I did not win Grand Prix Washington DC, but you knew that already. I did win quite a few matches at the event, with a final record of 10-4-1, but that was insufficient for any kind of meaningful finish. I lost my final round to end in 102nd place. While I didn’t come home with any prize money or Pro Points, playing all of the rounds did leave me with some valuable Legacy experience under my belt, which will certainly come in handy for the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas next month.

As I mentioned in my article last week, I don’t play much Legacy. I didn’t have any real opportunities to test prior to the event, so I decided to leave my deck selection to those with more familiarity with the format. I discussed a number of options with more experienced individuals than I, and the general consensus seemed to be that my best choice for the tournament would be Death and Taxes.

Here is the list I played:

Astute readers may recognize that this list is just a few cards off from the version played by Thomas Enevoldsen at the recent Bazaar of Moxen tournament. Given his success with the deck historically—winning GP Strasbourg earlier this year and putting two identical copies into the highly competitive BoM Top 8—I figured I’d be better off not messing with things too much. The only changes I made were cutting a single Plains from the maindeck for a second Horizon Canopy and removing two Cataclysms and a Sunlance from the sideboard for an Armageddon, a Leonin Relic-Warder, and an Oust.

With the benefit of hindsight, I feel like all of my changes were wrong. Oops. My theory was that Horizon Canopy is a great way for a deck with a tool like Aether Vial to get value out of its lands when it floods out. I didn’t realize quite how mana hungry the deck can be thanks to Equipment and Rishadan Port or how crippling it can be to be forced to play a nonbasic as your second land only to see it hit with Wasteland. I took a ton of damage from Horizon Canopy over the course of the tournament, saw it Wastelanded quite a few times, and only used it to draw cards twice in the entire event.

My theory with Oust was that it’s like a Sunlance that can actually remove opposing Tarmogoyfs or Knight of the Reliquarys. I think the world in general doesn’t appreciate Oust nearly as much as it should, and it’s been remarkably underplayed in the past. In Legacy, though, Brainstorm can make Oust a trivial setback; you’re frequently fighting over sheer quantity of threats rather than tempo, and the fact that your opponent can just redraw their Goyf means that you didn’t really gain a ton from the fact that you Ousted it. That combined with the fact that you’re generally bringing in Rest in Peace and Relic of Progenitus against Tarmogoyf decks anyway means that Sunlance is likely a better choice.

Lastly, while I didn’t run into many decks where I really wanted it, I grew to understand the value of Cataclysm after playtesting a number of games against planeswalker-heavy Esper Stoneblade decks as well as playing against a Miracles opponent in the actual tournament. The fact that many control decks eschew countermagic entirely against opposing fair decks means that an effect like Cataclysm can be absolutely devastating since there’s little they can actually do against it.

It also provides a great tool for coming back from disadvantaged board position against Entreat the Angels or Jace, which can otherwise prove very difficult. Leonin Relic-Warder was good for me, but I never drew Armageddon. And in the situations where I was hoping it see it, I would have been better off with Cataclysm anyway.

A major part of my motivation to play this deck was that it seemed like it ought to have a good matchup against many of the tempo decks in the format, so it was fairly awkward that three of my four losses came to Delver variants. My first loss came immediately after my byes against Matt Costa. I had a fairly slow draw in game 1 versus a turn 1 Delver that flipped immediately, and then I mulliganed and got Wastelanded out of casting any relevant spells in game 2. My second loss was to a BUG Delver deck that was seemingly overloaded on removal to go along with True-Name Nemesis, against which I found it exceedingly difficult to win when my Equipment was destroyed by Abrupt Decay or discarded with Thoughtseize.

My third loss was slightly awkward. I won a close game 1 against RUG Delver. Then I lost game 2 when Sulfur Elemental wiped away my Mother of Runes and Thalia and a Rough // Tumble killed another Mother, Thalia, and Flickerwisp; I eventually died to a pair of Delvers in a super-long game. In game 3, Sulfur Elemental got me again, as I used an early Sword to Plowshares on a Delver and then never saw a creature with more than one toughness for the rest of the game.

See a problem with that story? I only realized after game 2 when I was recreating the turns in my head that his Rough // Tumble should not have killed my Flickerwisp since it has flying—I had used my Mother of Runes on my turn to protect it from Lightning Bolt, which gave him the opening. I asked my opponent between games 2 and 3 about it, and he seemed somewhat surprised and apologetic. I don’t think he was intentionally trying to cheat me, though it is a bit suspect since the fact that Rough doesn’t deal damage to fliers is precisely why you play it in your Delver deck.

The moral of this part of this story is to play particularly carefully and confirm what’s going on in a format where you’re not 100% certain on the effect of any given card. I mentally just processed Rough // Tumble as "Pyroclasm" since I’m not used to playing with or against it (it didn’t help that his copy was Japanese) and binned all of my creatures. Even if my opponent in this case wasn’t angle shooting and trying to cheat me, there are people out there who will, so be sure to double check the effects of any card you aren’t totally familiar with and don’t be afraid to call a judge if necessary.

My remaining loss was in the last round to an Esper Deathblade deck. The games were a little silly—he was able to play and equip a Batterskull to his True-Name Nemesis through my Thalia before I had mana to cast a Flickerwisp in both games—but the matchup felt pretty bad anyway. I certainly didn’t feel better about it when I saw him desideboarding and taking a pair of Zealous Persecutions and a pair of Massacres out of his deck.

That was one of my concerns going into the tournament. I knew that Death and Taxes was going to have a target on its back thanks to the success it has had recently. Ari Lax victory at the Legacy Championship, the deck’s excellent performance at Bazaar of Moxen, and the hype it was getting on this website and elsewhere all shifted public perception toward Death and Taxes being one of the prominent decks to beat. This meant people were gunning for it, and that’s never a position I want to be in.

That said, Legacy is a format in which players can’t bias their deck too much toward the deck of the moment since it’s an extremely diverse field in which even the most popular decks make up only a small fraction of the metagame. I didn’t expect to see a lot of Sulfur Elementals out there—even the deck that beat me with it played only a single copy.

The real problem was True-Name Nemesis. Not just the card itself, even though despite my flier-heavy build it did prove troublesome when backed up by Equipment and removal. More significant was the way the existence of True-Name Nemesis biased the rest of the field. People were ready for it, and being ready for True-Name meant playing cards like the Zealous Persecutions and Massacres that my final round opponent played in his sideboard or the Golgari Charms that have become even more popular in the sideboard of BUG and Jund decks. The power level of a deck relying on cards like Mother of Runes, Thalia, Flickerwisp, and Phyrexian Revoker starts looking a little questionable when these cards are commonplace.

As an aside, I’m not a big fan of the existence of True-Name Nemesis. From what I understand, it’s not the kind of card that most Commander players typically play in their decks anyway, so while it was ostensibly printed as a Commander card it feels more like a chase Legacy card to encourage sales of Commander decks. And the impact it has on Legacy is that it punishes fair decks that are looking to play creatures and removal spells, which can already have a hard time in the format.

Perhaps most offensively, the card is blue—a color not exactly lacking in power level in the format. The narrow impact of True-Name Nemesis is to push people toward things like Zealous Persecution that can kill it, which hurts fair decks with cards like Mother of Runes. The broader impact is that it pushes people away from interactive decks that care about the card at all and further toward combo decks like Sneak and Show, Dredge, and Storm—which also hurts fair decks, particularly nonblue versions.

One of the few weaknesses of blue in Legacy has been its creatures. Outside of Vendilion Clique and Delver of Secrets, most blue decks looked to other colors for their creatures, which made Force of Will at least marginally more difficult to rely on. But True-Name Nemesis offers an Invisible Stalker / Moat split card that also happens to trump pretty much every fair creature your opponents could play that also happens to be the appropriate color to pitch to Force.

The card doesn’t seem very blue to me in theme. Protection is a much more iconic white ability, seen in cards like Voice of All, Shelter, Brave the Elements, Gods Willing, etc. I think True-Name would be a much more interesting and flavorful card and have a much less deleterious impact on Legacy if it were something like "Oath-Sworn Vindicator" at 1WW.

Regardless, True-Name is what it is, and it’s here to stay. I’ve been brewing a bit for what kind of deck I might want to try to play in a Nemesis-filled world, and this is where I’m looking to start my testing for the Legacy portion of the SCG Invitational coming up in Las Vegas next month:

This is just a sketch, but I want to try using Mother of Runes, Sylvan Safekeeper, and Thoughtseize to protect Knight, which can almost entirely ignore True-Name Nemesis by setting up the Dark Depths / Thespian’s Stage combo to fly over for twenty. Liliana and Diabolic Edict give True-Name protection while also serving as additional insurance against Show and Tell, though the double black in the mana cost of the former may be just a little too greedy.

What do you think? Does this look like it has potential? What do you think is the best way to approach the new Legacy format filled with True-Name Nemesis?

Until next time,