Previous articles in this series:
Today I’ll share my detailed strategy and sideboard guide for 3-color Threshold (the deck formerly known as ‘Super Grow’) and give you examples of successful builds.
The Down and Dirty 3cThreshold Strategy Guide
Here’s a quick recap of how to approach your different matches. Feel free to skip to the next section if this is nothing new to you, since a lot of this material is covered in Part 2.
Against aggressive creature-based decks, manage the board and your life total judiciously. If you play carefully and gain control of the game you can drop 10-power of creatures on the board for 3WGG (Werebear and Mystic Enforcer) – that’s a two-turn clock. The other most common endgame against creature decks is by locking up the ground with Werebear and friends while Mystic Enforcer swings for six flying damage per turn.
Against control decks you’re the beatdown. Slip your beaters onto the board as soon as possible, hit threshold early (turns 4 – 5), and use your control cards to force damage through – ignoring everything that isn’t disruptive to your beatdown plan.
It’s worth noting that the original grow decks thrived against combination decks (ex. Illusions/Donate) and this is still true today. Obviously, you’re the control deck in these matches. Play your draw spells aggressively to find your counters and Meddling Magi. After you’ve weathered the storm (take the pun, leave the pun, whatever) you can drop your win conditions without reprisal.
I continue to play and develop this deck because 3cThreshold is a strong weapon against all of these archetypes, if you know how to play it right.
And if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Paul Burke’s superb “Legacy Gro: A Tournament Report.” The competition isn’t exactly tier-one, but Paul (a.k.a. TheAntar) gives a very detailed account on how to play the deck to win.
The Three-Color Threshold Sideboard Guide
In the most general terms, against aggressive decks you side out Accumulated Knowledge for more removal; against control you bring in Armageddon in place of a few cantrips. The one-ofs in the maindeck (Intuition, Misdirection, Engineered Explosives, and Disrupting Shoal) support the core of the deck but are not required; they are easy to cut for your more specialized sideboard cards.
Feel free to test Winter Orb in the Armageddon slots, but my experiences have always been poor with that card. Without Gush to break the symmetry of Worb, and given how much of a mana hog this deck is, Winter Orb is as much a liability to you as it is to your opponent.
As a reminder, here’s the sideboard I listed in my last article:
All the notes below that start “Meddling Mage: …” are good spells to have your Meddling Magi chanting against. But like every other decision with 3cThreshold, everything needs to be carefully considered.
Against Landstill, Seal of Cleansing is your all-purpose Swiss Army knife. Seal proactively answers Landstill’s two most threatening sources of long-term card advantage: Crucible of Worlds and Standstill. Seal also doubles as creature removal for opposing Mishra’s Factories and can destroy Nevinyrral’s Disk before it becomes active. Seal of Cleansing is a handy tool indeed.
As for the match, 3cTheshold is the beatdown deck. Drop your Seals to shut down Standstill and prevent Wasteland and Factory recursion with Crucible. And don’t be afraid to sacrifice a Seal to destroy itself if you’re one card shy of threshold. That play won’t win you any awards, but it might be the right move at the time.
With the increased fetchland and cantrip count you can more reliably hit threshold as early as turn 3, though turn 4 is more common.
Consider these opening plays:
Turn 3: Play Polluted Delta; cast Brainstorm (graveyard: 4); sacrifice Delta for Tropical Island (graveyard: 5); cast Accumulated Knowledge (#1) (graveyard: 6); in response your opponent Wastelands your Tropical Island (graveyard: 7, threshold); attack with Werebear for 4.
Note we’ve seen six more cards than our opponent by this point and we also have a 5-turn clock to deal with. And that’s another way to keep Standstill off the board: put your opponent in the defensive position. But use only as much force as needed, and no more.
Landstill has less removal than you have creatures, and excepting Swords to Plowshares, their removal is slow and clunky (making Daze stronger) and you have more counters and a better draw engine besides.
From the sideboard, Armageddon is brought in, and that is a savage beating against Landstill, especially when you have a threshold creature on the board.
Stifle is also brought in to counter Wasteland and an otherwise “uncounterable” cycling of Decree of Justice. In the worst case Stifle will delay the activation of Nevinyrral’s Disk for one turn or serve as cheap land destruction (Stifling a Flooded Strand activation) to a mana hungry deck.
This is a close but favorable match, both before and after sideboarding.
Meddling Mage: AEther Vial, Goblin Warchief, Goblin Matron, Goblin Piledriver, Umezawa’s Jitte — it all depends on what you’ve seen, your hand, your opponent’s board position, whether AEther Vial is in play, etc.
Assuming your opponent doesn’t get their god-hand while you’re stuck with a “slow control” grip (hard counters and Accumulated Knowledge), this is usually an exciting match.
Leaving Blue Elemental Blast out of the equation for the moment, 3cThreshold has nine ways to stop a turn-1 Goblin Lackey on the draw; and a full twenty ways to deal with a first-turn Lackey on the play. But Goblin Lackey is not your biggest threat. No, the most dangerous red guy you’ll face is Goblin Warchief. No other card can drop so heavy a sack of rusty nails on your junk like Warchief.
Meddling Mage is pretty much crap here. Your opponent’s threats are too varied and no one card is necessary for Goblins to run you over. If AEther Vial is on the board, Umezawa’s Jitte and any sideboard cards you’re expecting are the next spells to have your Magi chanting against.
A Long Parenthetical Aside: The Awesome Nimble Mongoose. If fact, if after your pre-tournament scouting you estimate that 35-40% of the field is Red decks, consider replacing Meddling Mage with Nimble Mongoose. The ‘Goose places less strain on your early mana and gives you another way to chump a turn-1 Goblin Lackey when you’re on the draw or chump a mid-game Goblin Piledriver. Nimble Mongoose is also conveniently immune to Goblin Sharpshooter, a cycling of Gempalm Incinerator, and other targeted removal. They’re not bad against Landstill either.
So, if you’re going to take 3cThreshold to a tournament, I recommend your bring a playset of each with you and decide which to run before you register your list. Finally, many people are running 3-4 Mongeese in their sideboard; that’s another option to consider. End aside.
Your Goblins opponent also gains a significant advantage if you’re unprepared and lack experience with this deck. Quoting Jack Elgin (aka TheInfamousBearAssasin) in a recent Legacy article: “Goblins is annoying not because it’s overpowered, but because it damn near has artificial intelligence. The worst player on Earth can do well with this deck.” Well said. This isn’t to say that all people who play Goblins are a bunch of half-breed troglodytes or that Goblins is a bad deck. It’s just that it’s frighteningly easy to stumble into the Top 8 with poor play.
Conversely, the worst player piloting 3cThreshold will go down in flames and look like an idiot doing so. It won’t be pretty.
From the sideboard we bring in our 4 Blue Elemental Blasts and a couple of Spheres of Law in place of Accumulated Knowledge, Misdirection, and Intuition. You can make room for another Engineered Explosives, but this is no Engineered Plague. Spending five mana to nuke a Warchief isn’t terribly satisfying. Unfortunately, the casting cost of Goblins’ little red men means this will usually trade one-for-one, though you’ll occasionally get lucky with a two-for-one.
As I found out the hard way, once Goblin Piledriver is on the board he can’t be targeted by Blue Elemental Blast. But if Aether Vial hasn’t made an appearance or you’ve dealt with it, you can counter Piledriver with BEB while he’s on stack.
Sphere of Law is not the nail in Goblins’ coffin that you want it to be, but it will slow your bleeding to the point where you can gain control of the game.
As for winning, Werebear(s) and Meddling Mage (and/or Nimble Mongoose) are usually left on chump-block duty while Mystic Enforcer swings for six flying damager per turn. Assuming your opponent has taken two points of self-inflicted damage, you just need to chump and play your plentiful control spells for three turns to win.
I didn’t intend to dwell this long on Goblins, but this is one match that you need to understand if you hope to win a tournament. And the best way to understand this match is to play the ever-living hell out of it.
Meddling Mage: You might as well have your Magi chanting against Icatian Moneychanger or Gwendlyn Di Corci because they’re toast. If you’re not feeling so witty, just name Fireblast or Price of Progress.
Generally your opponent will need multiple burn spells to remove your creatures, so they’ll often gamble that they can burn you out before you beat them down. So use your life as an expendable resource that you can cash in to find the right card. It also helps that all of your creatures are immune to Red Elemental Blast, except Meddling Mage, who will die to a stupid Lava Dart.
A double-Fireblast or Price of Progress can end the game quickly, so manage your life total very carefully. Note that this is one of those matches where it occasionally pays to StP your own creatures. Sometimes this will just postpone your demise; other times it will give you the extra attack step you need to win the game.
+3 Seal of Cleansing
+2 Engineered Explosives (1cc: Aether Vial, Disciple of the Vault, etc.; 2cc: Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, Atog, etc.; not so hot against Enforcer and Frogmite)
-4 Accumulated Knowledge
This seems like it should be bad match, but my experience has proven otherwise. Daze is generally useless past turn two, so Daze whatever you can. Myr Enforcer will trade with Werebear. If your opponent goes all-in with Arcbound Ravager, Swords to Plowshares can make for a slaughter. But generally your best chance of winning will come from Mystic Enforcer as you drop chump blockers to stall the ground battle against Affinity’s sizable threats.
Engineered Explosives doesn’t need to trade greater than 1-for-1 for it to have done its job. And Seal of Cleansing aimed at Seat of Synod or Vault of Whispers can strand a lot of painful cards in your opponent’s hand too.
Like Vintage Fish, there is no consensus build for Legacy Fish, so broad generalizations are not going to be profitable here.
The Blue/Green variants are the most aggressive and you’ll need to be on your guard against Wild Mongrel and Umezawa’s Jitte, the two cards that can do the most damage to you. The Blue/Red, Blue/White, and Blue/Red/White decks all play a little differently and the technology they employ diverge wildly. But generally these decks have lists that look somewhat similar to Landstill, but Fish plays as a classic aggro-control deck and Landstill plays the classic control game.
3cThreshold is far more analogous to Fish than Landstill, so prepare for a pseudo-mirror match where your opponent has more creatures than you, but where yours hit harder. Depending how my opponent starts off, I’ll generally adopt the beatdown plan against all Fish variants, sans U/G, where I play 3cThreshold as a control deck.
Shameless self-promotion: It’s too bad my Angel Fish deck never caught on; note the correct deck list is posted in the forums (post #9, recently updated). Properly tuned this would make a fine deck for GP: Philadelphia. [Apologies for not getting this up on Friday – I thought we’d already posted it. – Knut]
In the wild, combination decks are the natural prey of the Grow archetype, and High Tide is no exception. With a dozen counters and a playset of maindeck Meddling Magi, you’ll want to play against High Tide all day.
The first card to name with Meddling Mage is “High Tide” to stunt their mana production.
Your correct role in this match is obviously control, as you can’t hope to win the game by turn four. Use your cantrips to fill your hand with counters and find a Meddling Mage or two. But be careful, especially against the instant speed version of this deck, because you may just hand a game to your opponent. You’re already playing 2-4 spells per turn and will be thinning your deck with your fetchlands so Brain Freeze will have to do less work than usual.
The lack of creatures in High Tide makes for a lot of useless cardboard in our deck but, by design, we have a few powerful tools in the sideboard with Armageddon and Stifle. And even if Armageddon gets countered, that’s one less counter your opponent will have to fight you when they go for their big turn.
Like Fish, there’s been a recent proliferation of experimental technology in the Survival decks. Also like Fish it’s hard to generalize a proper strategy against these decks. But I’ll give it my best.
Assuming it hasn’t hit the board, the first card to name with Meddling Mage is always “Survival of the Fittest.” Without Survival your opponent is forced to play fairly and you can beat them handily from there. Spore Frog-lock can be broken with Meddling Mage and your opponent’s biggest creatures will trade with Werebear, leaving an opening for Mystic Enforcer to make an appearance.
Against the lock-style ATS builds, you’re in the beatdown role. Against the more aggressive R/G versions, 3c Threshold is best played as a control deck. And I have no idea how to approach Allan Race (a.k.a. scrumdogg) and Justin Valley’s (a.k.a. niknight) G/W/r Exalted Angel-Survival build. It’s a cool deck; check it out (post #5).
If Survival and reanimations decks are popular in your area, I’d replace the two Engineered Explosives in the sideboard with a pair of Phyrexian Furnaces. This is also a good idea for your sideboard at the Grand Prix.
Honestly, I’ve never played against Angel Stompy, but this seems like a reasonable way to sideboard against them.
Besides the fact that no one plays U/G Madness anymore, there’s little to add to this match that I haven’t said in Part 2 of this primer.
Anyone can pilot Goblins or Affinity and place reasonably well, since those decks pretty much play themselves. But 3-color Threshold is not the kind of deck you can pull off the shelf and expect to do well with. The deck’s learning curve is deceptively steep and the decision tree is painfully complex, but if you take the time to master this deck, there’s no opponent you’ll fear. And you’ll have blast playing it.
Cheers and thanks for reading.
Acknowledgements: Much thanks to Matt (a.k.a. MattTheGreat) and Dan (a.k.a. Belzebozo) for reading Parts 3 & 4 and giving me excellent feedback.
Appendix I: Recent high-placing 3cThrehold builds
Hamburg (16 October 2005): Sixth Place
Louisville: (10 September 2005): First Place
Dortmund: (20 August 2005): Second Place
Fairfax (14 August 2005): Eighth Place (Blue/Green/Red)
Bremen (04 August 2005): First Place
Syracuse (17 July 2005): First Place
Aurich (25 June 2005): Fourth Place
Vancouver, BC (early summer 2005): First Place
Grand Prix: Philadelphia: 3 in the Top 8
(Thanks to morphling.de for several of these lists.)
Learning From the Flaws Of Aggro Decks in Vintage – A Look At Bird Sh** (Joshua Silvestri) * Vintage 3-Color Threshold
Appendix III: Suggested Grand Prix List
4 Accumulated Knowledge
4 Serum Visions
2 Sleight of Hand
4 Force of Will
1 Disrupting Shoal
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Meddling Mage
3 Mystic Enforcer