Okay, so you want to attack Legacy in the wake of Pro Tour 25th
Anniversary. There are a few different options for the discerning mage, but
thankfully in the wake of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe’s banning,
there are still no fewer than three playable fair Brainstorm decks
that can win Grand Prix Richmond, as well as a smattering of Sneak and
Show, Death and Taxes, Miracles, Colorless Eldrazi, Reanimator, Stoneblade,
Temur Delver, and Loam decks.
The best, most flexible decks, unsurprisingly, are the triumvirate of fair
Brainstorm decks: Grixis Delver, Grixis Control, and U/B Death’s Shadow.
Those are the ones we will break down today, paying special attention to
some unorthodox options that can put a Delver deck over the top. To start,
the list I would heartily endorse for the Grand Prix:
Yes, Liliana, the Last Hope is that important against Grixis Control. It’s
the best card in the matchup, bar none. It’s also great against Death and
Taxes and Miracles. Surgical Extraction can be a third Flusterstorm,
especially if you don’t predict many Lands players. Why? Reanimate is so
good against Reanimator and so mediocre against the other combo decks that
it already occupies the Surgical Extraction slot of “good against
Reanimator, bad against other combo decks.” It stays in against Reanimator
and you don’t have a ton of slots for anti-combo cards in your sideboard,
so Surgical Extraction starts to fall off quickly. It’s definitely
acceptable to cut a Ratchet Bomb or Liliana for a second Surgical
Extraction if you expect Lands and lots of Reanimator.
The third Ratchet Bomb is important in a metagame where the annoying all-in
deck of choice is Chalice of the Void-based (rather than graveyard-based).
If you squint, that’s Colorless Eldrazi (and to a lesser extent, Mono-Red
Prison). I’d rather hedge against Chalice than Life from the Loam right
now, which means that Ratchet Bomb is just the bee’s knees.
This is quite an aggressively-slanted strategy, with little outside of
Liliana, the Last Hope and Hymn to Tourach to divert into a longer game.
For those who were aficionados of Four-Color Delver from early 2017
(pre-Sensei’s Divining Top ban), there is an excellent alternative to
Death’s Shadow (that actually sports a strong matchup against Shadow
itself) in Jonathan Sukenik’s Grixis Delver deck from the Pro Tour.
Jonathan has spoken out about his love for transformational Delver decks
before, and I appreciate what he’s done here with the ability to sideboard
out his Delvers and turn into a makeshift Grixis Control deck while setting
up opponents to have piles of ineffective removal. The Bitterblossoms are a
nice touch to position as a control deck with endless blockers against
aggro and a sticky threat against control. Combining them with Inquisition
of Kozilek to minimize unneeded extra life loss is a key element here. This
is also a deck that doesn’t fold immediately to a Chalice of the Void, as a
stream of angry True-Name Nemesis still wins games.
When you play against Grixis Control with Sukenik’s list, you’re trying to
get them to a position where they’re holding a hand full of irrelevant
cardboard. To that end, you can cut your Delvers, Forked Bolt, and two
Force of Will and sideboard in both copies of Liliana, the Last Hope,
Snapcaster Mage, Pyroblasts, Red Elemental Blast, and Flusterstorm. It’s
also feasible to cut a Gurmag Angler and a Lightning Bolt and leave in the
Forces, especially on the draw. This plan leaves Grixis Control staring at
Fatal Pushes and Lightning Bolts with no good targets. Incredible.
Of course, Bob Huang has been hard at work trying to resurrect classic
Grixis Delver, Young Pyromancers and all. The lack of Gitaxian Probe really
has me soured on Young Pyromancer as a card right now, as there’s just not
as much velocity to really get a potent chain of triggers going. However,
there’s no denying that Young Pyromancer does take over games quickly once
it does hang around, and Tannon Grace’s excellent finish at SCG Dallas in
the Legacy seat is a strong signal for the continued viability of the deck:
The basic Island is a nice touch, a nod towards fighting Blood Moon decks
and Life from the Loam/Wasteland decks all in one. Null Rod, as always,
impresses me as crossover anti-Storm and anti-Death and Taxes hate, and the
broad mix of answers and divergent gameplans always leaves Grixis Delver a
potent choice. The issue here is that Grixis Delver is not particularly
good against Grixis Control, which is enemy number one these days in the
later rounds of a high-level Legacy tournament. If it’s good enough for
Reid Duke and Brian Braun-Duin, it’s good enough to be a major player in
the foreseeable future.
This Grixis deck is a real beast, grinding opponents into dust with ease.
Grixis Delver must hope to beat it with mana disruption or hard-to-answer
threats, like True-Name Nemesis or Bitterblossom. The weakness of Grixis
Control is in how much time it gives combo decks to build up past any
amount of disruption. Its best weapon against decks like Storm or Sneak and
Show is the Hymn to Tourach – Snapcaster Mage + Hymn to Tourach sequence,
which is usually enough to end the game with a follow-up Jace or Gurmag
Death and Taxes has a surprisingly acceptable matchup against Grixis
Control, considering the massive amount of removal in Grixis. The heavy
mana denial can really put a strain on the control deck’s ability to
actually squeeze out from under the annoying threats, and without a
Kolaghan’s Command, the Grixis deck gets quickly sunk under an Aether Vial.
In anticipation of some of these difficulties, I’m impressed with the
presence of Ensnaring Bridge, both as a hate piece against Sneak and Show
and potentially hard creature matchups, like Elves and Death and Taxes.
Being locked under Ensnaring Bridge and watching Jace, the Mind Sculptor
slowly fatesealing the game away is always a demoralizing way to lose.
On the topic of the white decks, there’s one clear favorite: the constant,
the most improved deck from the recent bannings, Death and Taxes. It won
Pro Tour 25th Anniversary (though technically it was Allen Wu’s teammates,
Greg Orange and Ben Hull, who won the decisive matches) and if a nonblue
deck does win GP Richmond, it will probably be Mother of Runes and company
doing the heavy lifting.
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 4 Flickerwisp
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 2 Recruiter of the Guard
- 1 Sanctum Prelate
- 1 Palace Jailer
The only change I’d recommend to this list is a second Palace Jailer
somewhere in the 75. Jailer is so critical and so incredibly powerful on
even a somewhat stable battlefield that it seems criminal not to include a
second in case the first is Thoughtseized away.
Other than that, Allen’s list is heavily metagamed to attack Reanimator,
which is clearly not a popular choice right now, and as such it’s possible
that some of the graveyard hate can be shaved for more cards to beat the
unholy triumvirate seen above. I’d be rid of the Faerie Macabre or one Rest
in Peace and look to another Palace Jailer in that place. Mirror matches
are a real concern, and Palace Jailer is incredible there as well.
If you’re going to play unfair Magic at the Grand Prix, my first advice
is…don’t. It’s not a great time to be playing unfair in Legacy right now,
although Reanimator is very patiently waiting for the hate to die down just
enough for it to come roaring back. This weekend may be too soon, but if
graveyard decks have another bad tournament weekend or two, I may pick up
the Exhumes out of sheer excitement for hitting the metagame clock right on
the head. Right now, though, Sneak and Show is still the name of the game
for popular combo in Legacy, with Max Medeiros’ Omni-Sneak variant putting
up a Top 4 finish at SCG Dallas.
It’s powerful, to be sure, and I recommend playing a version of Sneak and
Show that doesn’t just crumble in the face of a Karakas and a Phyrexian
Revoker, but the high density of Delver decks with maindeck discard is just
making me shiver when I imagine trying to push through Show and Tell in
contemporary Legacy. Let Lands start to come back, let Grixis Control put a
hammer-lock on the fair blue deck segment, and then try to play Sneak and
Show. For now, though, there is too much that I am scared to play against
to recommend this deck. Of course, you don’t play combo in Legacy if you’re
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect one of the fair Brainstorm decks to
come away with the Legacy trophy at Grand Prix Richmond. With the
flexibility of being aggressive or defensive, the power of free wins, and
the potent possibility of Thoughtseize + Reanimate to use your opponents’
own best weapons against them, my personal choice would be U/B Death’s
Shadow, but together these strategies show that despite Deathrite Shaman’s
banning, U/B/x is still the most powerful color combination in Legacy. No
amount of format evolution is going to change that, but I’m still
salivating waiting to embrace the hot tech and surprise dark horse
strategies sure to come out of the upcoming Grand Prix.