Legacy’s Allure – An Incredible Hulk

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Tuesday, December 29th – Doug takes a swing at an updated Entomb-Protean Hulk deck for Legacy, adopting a rock-solid manabase and one of the format’s most annoying cards. He explains the deck’s card choices, as well as omitted cards and general strategy. Get a new Hulk list to play around with and inspire your own creations in this week’s Legacy’s Allure!

With A Christmas Carol fresh on my mind, I want to be as greedy as Scrooge when it comes to Legacy lists. I’ve been doing a lot of tinkering with Entomb and I’d like to show you my current Protean Hulk deck that pushes the limits on some numbers and card choices. If you’re unfamiliar with how the combination works, one aims to get Protean Hulk into the graveyard with Entomb and then bring it back with Necromancy or Footsteps of the Goryo so that it dies at the end of a turn, triggering the Hulk’s ability. The best iteration of the post-Hulk combination is probably the one discussed in this previous article, reprinted here for ease:

“Get the Body Snatcher or Body Double and Carrion Feeder from the first Hulk activation. The Snatcher lets you discard a drawn combination piece (aside from Carrion Feeder). Either reanimate the Hulk or copy it with the Double. Sacrifice that Hulk to the Carrion Feeder to get Reveillark and Bile Urchin. The Urchin is sacrificed and the Reveillark feeds the zombie. Reveillark brings back the Body Double and Bile Urchin on its way out. Bile Urchin is sacrificed again. Body Double copies Reveillark. In a strange twist, the Body Double/Reveillark is sacrificed to Carrion Feeder and the reanimation trigger sees the Body Double in the graveyard, eligible to be brought back again. By repeating this loop, one can create an arbitrarily large Carrion Feeder and deal any amount of life loss to the opponent.”

There are several ways to build a Hulk deck with Entomb, so let’s look at the options:

• Hulk with Dark Rituals, Chrome Moxes, Lotus Petals and all sorts of acceleration that will enable a fast combo in the first or second turn. This can be aided by free spells like Force of Will and Unmask to clear out opposing disruption. This strategy is nice because there are a lot of free wins you can come up with, but has the downside that it is vulnerable to a lot of hate (such as burn spells) and is probably not as fast as Ad Nauseam or Belcher combos.
• A “middle of the road” option that recognizes that the combination can be disrupted with frustrating regularity. Because of this, it plays cards like extra Carrion Feeders, cantrips like Ponder to find and select cards, and a more stable manabase so it can achieve the three mana for Necromancy with a minimum of fuss.
• A controlling list that aims to cover its bases with repeatable disruption or draw cards with Dark Confidant. It may also run secondary Entomb targets ranging from Deep Analysis to another reanimation card like Iona, Shield of Emeria. This deck would give up a lot of explosiveness but be able to fight through a good degree of the maindecked problem cards that Hulk faces.

I prefer the third option, since the aggressive combination just doesn’t feel good at this point and a reasonable list is often too slow. For example, I find that a list in the style of the second option has a good turn around turn 4 and 5, then loses a lot of ground to just about any other deck after that. It cannot draw enough cards or apply enough pressure to get anything through and an opponent is not scared by the Hulk combination at that point. Most of the Hulk decks built right now look like this and suffer from just being unable to get past an opponent with two counterspells. It’s frustrating to sit on a good combo and have to work around an opponent’s possible hand. To respond to this, I cobbled up the following deck:

4 Polluted Delta
2 Flooded Strand
4 Underground Sea
1 Tropical Island
4 Island
3 Swamp

1 Body Snatcher
1 Carrion Feeder
2 Cabal Therapy
1 Deep Analysis
2 Lim-Dul’s Vault
1 Reveillark
1 Sylvan Safekeeper
1 Body Double
1 Protean Hulk
1 Bile Urchin
4 Entomb
4 Brainstorm
3 Counterbalance
4 Thoughtseize
1 Echoing Truth
3 Necromancy
1 Footsteps of the Goryo
4 Force of Will
3 Mystical Tutor
3 Sensei’s Divining Top

Yes, it’s Counterbalance with Entomb/Hulk! Harking back to Sadin’s Flash list, this runs the Blue enchantment to play a control game while assembling an airtight combo hand. Oh Counterbalance, let me sing your praises! The biggest annoyance against Hulk decks is Swords to Plowshares. What happens is that you Necromancy this big 6/6 guy and they send it to pull a plow on a farm, skipping Go and not collecting a bunch of dudes for his trouble. You’re out of possibly the only Hulk in your deck and have to try and win with some arcane assembly of Carrion Feeder and Body Double beatdown. Uncomfortable. Counterbalance is probably the best way to deal with this because, with Sensei’s Divining Top, it is easy to create a situation where you can counter any number of the problem card. It is also helpful for stopping a lot of Zoo’s burn spells and buying time to set up a kill. I like it over cards like Duress (already running Thoughtseize) because it does not cost additional mana on the combo turn and it doesn’t have the all-or-nothing problems that Pact of Negation presents. I had considered Daze, but a Daze at any point before the combo means you’re set back another turn before you can attempt anything, since you have to play fair and cast Necromancy with actual lands and not accelerants.

The deck has some hedges in it even though I run Counterbalance. The biggest one is Sylvan Safekeeper. Olle Rade helps protect your Carrion Feeder from being burned out or Smothered or any other unfortunate ways of dying. Most people skip the Safekeeper, figuring that removal will just be pointed at the Hulk, but the Feeder is actually the lynchpin of the deck and is the best target for non-Swords removal spells. You end up Hulking for Body Snatcher, Sylvan Safekeeper, and Carrion Feeder. Then, you sacrifice the Body Snatcher with its trigger on the stack (or you can resolve it if you’re holding a combo piece) and go get the rest of the combo, as outlined above. I like the Safekeeper even though I have the Blue enchantment because it facilitates earlier combos against decks that run removal but no Swords (or Path to Exile) such as BG Suicide and RG Sligh. You can sideboard it out against many decks, but having it in the first game has been critical in my testing.

The best thing about this list, though, is actually the seven basic lands. That’s a heck of a lot of indestructible, annoying basics that you can sit on and comfortably cast spells with. It’s the reason why the Canadian Threshold and BG Suicide matches are not total blowouts against you. The truth of the matter is that you need three lands in play to win; anything that prevents you from reaching that point is a serious hindrance. I like the basics so much that I am considering cutting two Underground Seas to make room for another pair of Swamp and Island. The fetchlands are vulnerable to Stifling (though that clears away Stifles that could stop the combo later) but are necessary for both Brainstorm and Sensei’s Divining Top. Many Hulk lists have attempted to run more dual lands and cram in four colors for Red Elemental Blasts, Orim’s Chants or other accoutrements in the sideboard that are more cute than necessary. The rock-solid lands in this deck give you the peace of mind that you can be inevitable in more matches than you would be with dual lands. Further, you have very few intensive color requirements, so having a Swamp and two Islands in play is just fine for casting everything you draw.

The list is rounded out by some utility cards. Cabal Therapy is great to grab with Entomb because it can help you avoid the problem of Swords and Path. You simply Necromancy your Hulk and, retaining priority, sacrifice it to trigger the combo. You must remember that the Cabal Therapy will sit at the bottom of the stack for all of the combo and might never actually resolve. This is important! You cannot Therapy with the goal of knocking out a piece of hate from the opponent’s hand, since you’ll be done with the combo before you get that chance. Therapy is still good for picking apart an opponent’s hand at other points and is especially good for its Peek effect. The information war is critical with Hulk; many opponents will hold lots of disruption in hand or skip casting draw spells or creatures because they fear your combination. Checking out what they’re holding back means you know whether to go for it, find a Thoughtseize, set up a Counterbalance or track down another card like Echoing Truth. Speaking of that bounce spell, I gave it a nod over the technically superior Wipe Away because it’s a two-cost spell. You need a critical amount of those for Counterbalance to function with regularity and a Wipe Away is countered by an opponent holding a Vendilion Clique on their library for Counterbalance (which is common if they run those cards, since it counters a Necromancy at all times). Sure, the Echoing Truth will probably be countered by the enchantment anyway, but it gets the nod for its casting cost for Counterbalance and actually being cheaper and easier to resolve otherwise.

I run two Lim-Dul’s Vaults for the reason that they work so well with Counterbalance. Like Echoing Truth, they are two-costers and are great to have on your library. They also set up Counterbalance for stopping opposing spells and protecting your own and are good utility all-around. They take the place of Ponder, which is a great card but one that I lack the room for. They let you set up cool Counterbalance scenarios where you put Reveillark on top of your library to counter Force of Will.

My sideboard changes around quite a bit. I know for sure that another Protean Hulk is great for fighting through graveyard hate. Other methods of solving things like Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus include Pithing Needle and Krosan Grip. For that reason, I run three Krosan Grips on the sideboard. Know, also, that Krosan Grip is good against you, even though most players don’t realize how. What happens is that the Necromancy comes into play and then looks for a creature to reanimate. At this point, you can Grip it and it will not bring anything back. Every opponent will bring in Grips if they have the room, so it’s up to you to decide whether you want to bring in Footsteps of the Goryo to get around that or try to fight the split-second spell another way.

One strategy that I caution against is trying a transformational sideboard. I love them and I can never make them work. You spend a lot of sideboard space to accomplish becoming an awful alternate deck. The better option is to run spells that can fight what you think you’ll encounter. Consider that a Chain of Vapor can remove any permanent problems for one mana and Counterbalance can counter an opponent’s copy if they want to duplicate it. Dark Rituals can be helpful in matches where you just want to combo out quickly or have no need for the Counterbalances, so having two on the sideboard has been profitable for me. I suppose the greatest consideration is that you should not over-sideboard. You have only a few spots you can shave: Sylvan Safekeeper, one or both Cabal Therapy, Counterbalances, and a copy of Entomb or Mystical Tutor. That does not leave much room to work with, so choose sideboard cards wisely and don’t disrupt the core of the deck’s engine.

The good matchups for this deck include aggressive decks that cannot really stop the combination before turn 4 or so. This also includes a lot of disruptive decks. For example, I found in testing that a hand of four lands, a Mystical Tutor, and a Sensei’s Divining Top was very strong against Canadian Threshold. The reason was that they attempted to stop you by blowing up your lands. Their most relevant spell was Stifle, since it got fetchlands and the Hulk combo. Playing basic lands, turn after turn, meant that they had to try to race you with creatures while holding up a mana for Stifle or trying to represent one. It was a race that they would often lose. In my early testing, I found this matchup to be decent to favorable, which emboldened me that the basic land manabase was the correct reason to play this list.

Unfortunate matches for this deck include decks with a good clock that can combo out more quickly. This includes combination decks like Ad Nauseam as well as Dredge, which loves to strip out your hand while you hope to get three lands into play and win. The deck can also stumble easily due to player error or bad reads on an opponent. It holds up after a mulligan decently well because of Sensei’s Divining Tops, but sometimes it has games where it needs to find a Brainstorm now or lose because it has a Protean Hulk in hand and no way to get rid of it. I think it’s a reasonable and fair deck that’s got an edge on existing Hulk decks, but not format-warping. Give it a spin and let me know what you think on the forums or through email!

Until next week…

Doug Linn

legacysallure at gmail dot com

PS: Poster milgram won last week’s early Magic memories contest for a combination of a story involving multiplayer games and X-spells. However, he wins because he, and his playgroup, actually understood how Ice Cauldron worked enough to play with it.

Another postscript: as your holiday surprise, I give you Stephen Menendian as Scrooge.