Legacy’s Allure – Busting Cthulhu Out of Dark Depths

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Tuesday, October 6th – Why spend thirty mana to get Marit Lage out of the icy prison of Dark Depths? We all know elder, ancient evils require mortal sacrifice, and there’s no better card to accomplish it with than Vampire Hexmage. This week, Doug looks at several methods of thawing Cthulhu for fun and evil. Further, Doug talks about strategies with Dark Depths that just don’t cut it. If you’re interested in decks that can put a 20/20 Flying, Indestructible, Legendary monster into play on the first turn, check out this week’s article!

Have you seen Dark Depths? Centuries ago, we locked Cthulhu in ice to think about what he’d done. Now we want to bust him out. Why play nice and pay the thirty mana to get those ice counters off, though? That’s like melting the glacier with a hair dryer. No, what really gets Old Ones going is some bloodshed in their name. We need some human sacrifice, like Vampire Hexmage. Okay, so maybe it’s vampire sacrifice…

The combination is simple: Vampire Hexmage, at the cost of his life, rips counters off of Dark Depths and summons a 20/20, flying, indestructible monster. It does this for two mana and two cards. You can even do this as early as the first turn! Let’s talk about what a 20/20 means. The obvious is that it takes one swing to kill most opponents. The indestructibility means it survives a lot of removal that would kill lesser giant unspeakable horrors. Though it lacks trample and can be blocked all day long by chumps (curses, Bitterblossom!), flying gets it past most annoying blockers. Remember that you only need to make contact once with this guy to seal the game.

However, indestructible elder gods aren’t what they used to be. They can be defeated in Legacy by several tactics. The old standby of removing them with Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares certainly works. Some Blue mages still pack bounce spells, and craftier Goblins players have realized that Stingscourger is good. If the token shows up too late to the party, an opponent can race it if they have fliers like Vendilion Clique or Trygon Predator. All that considered, though, a 20/20 flying token is very powerful when it comes out for two cards and two mana. This power is the backdrop for my article this week, where I explore applications for this new combo in Legacy through several decks.

First, I’m not sure if I buy into the plan of making a crazy-fast combo deck with it. Sure, you can play Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth on the first turn and then Dark Depths on the second turn, then a Hexmage and win, but what happens when you can’t get all those cards immediately? In that case, Urborg acts as a nonbasic Swamp that will slow you down if it gets Wastelanded. Now, granted, I do think an Urborg is nice to have, especially if you run your own Wasteland, but I’d rather be running better mana fixing or acceleration if I wanted to live the high life and make Marit Lage on the second turn. The token created is sufficiently strong enough that you can make it nearly any time and win. Thus, the important thing is building a strong shell around the deck, be it Mono-Black disruption, Black/Green rock, Pikula-style White and Black, or even other, quirkier ideas.

Mono-Black Suicide-Style Dark Depths Combo

Starting with a Mono-Black shell gives us access to all sorts of powerful disruptive cards. We can begin with Thoughtseize and Hymn to Tourach. We have the acceleration of Dark Ritual and the “best two-drop of all time,” Dark Confidant. Thanks to the new Sign in Blood, we have eight drawing cards with Night’s Whisper. If our main goal is to get two cards in play and detonate them, Mono-Black is a great way to start off. I have also been very interested in Gatekeeper of Malakir, the Diabolic Edict guy from Zendikar. It’s an all-around solid creature; it will always hit for value, and against decks with smaller creatures like Goblins, it can be a source of actual card advantage. Since several cards in my testing deck cause loss of life, cards that can eat up damage from opposing creatures are valuable; remember that a 20/20 does nothing if you’re at three life and the opponent has Tarmogoyf and Nimble Mongoose.

The Dark Depths combo adds a lot to this, previously lackluster, deck. Mono-Black can disrupt like the best of ’em, but it has a very hard time actually winning without help from things like Tarmogoyf and Nantuko Shade. It means that tactical disruption, which can only really slow an opponent down, becomes lethal because your kill stops them from actually topdecking an out.

The other critical piece to not only Mono-Black, but really, to any Dark Depths deck, is Grim Discovery. It is just about the most solid reload for a combo that I’ve ever seen. Imagine a card that would let you put Illusions of Grandeur back into play with a Donate in your hand. That’s what Grim Discovery does. In a deck with at least 12 creatures and packing Wastelands, simply casting the card “fairly” can be powerful. In the decks I propose today, you’ll see quantities of Grim Discovery.

Here’s what I’ve been toying with:

It’s important to consider Dark Depths as a spell and not a land when we’re making our manabases. It’s a bit difficult to find the correct number of Dark Depths and Vampire Hexmages to run, since we don’t want to be drawing extra Dark Depths. However, Vampire Hexmage is a fine guy on his own (your opponents will probably forget it has First Strike too) and I think four is a fine number.

Unfortunately, this deck has a problem dealing with Counterbalance. Which is to say, it utterly loses to Counterbalance. That’s why I included both Chrome Mox and Dark Ritual; ideally, you can play enough spells that you have a Hexmage out early or you can knock the enchantment out of the opponent’s hand. I’d really like Tombstalker in here, since it makes a great foil to Counterbalance, but it clearly doesn’t play well with Dark Confidant. The side power of the Chrome Moxes with Dark Ritual is that you can possibly live the dream by playing both accelerants, then Hexmage and a Dark Depths as the land for the turn, woo!

If you don’t have a hand like that, but do you the Hexmage and Dark Depths, it’s worth waiting until you can play the Hexmage and then, immediately after it comes into play, make Dark Depths as the land drop. This maneuver makes sure that you never pass priority in the period between landing the Hexmage and playing the land. That way, you can immediately sacrifice the vampire and you aren’t susceptible to an opponent removing the Hexmage.

Black-Green Rock Dark Depths Combo

Much like Mono-Black aggro, Rock decks have had a problem in that they can stabilize the board but still lose to topdecked threats. The Dark Depths combination facilitates a quick kill with Rock, and much like the disruption in Mono-Black, the board control in Rock gives it time to find the combination.

I think the two main reasons to go black/green are Pernicious Deed and Krosan Grip. The Enchantment is still incredible in Legacy if you can make the mana for it and then make more to fire it off. Similarly, Krosan Grip never longs for a target and is a fine card to run in the maindeck. There are also some other options for Black/Green, like a Life from the Loam engine to pull back Volrath’s Stronghold, Dark Depths and other goodies. Similarly, Living Wish can pull both sides of the combo from the sideboard, allowing a theoretical seven copies of each card and a great degree of utility otherwise. I don’t appreciate the Life from the Loam setup or the Living Wish plan very much, since I think Grim Discovery just does everything you need those two cards to do for a lot less mana and deckbuilding contortions.

Another possibility, which I haven’t seen tossed around much, is Into the North. Dark Depths is a snow land, so you can possibly shave down to just one Dark Depths and run Into the North in the deck to accelerate out mana, maybe snag Mouth of Ronom or Scrying Sheets, and then go find Dark Depths when you’re ready to combo out. It’s unspectacular, but it’s a nice role-player for a deck like Rock that just wants to play a land or two every turn.

Black-White Pikula With Dark Depths

While I’m not an expert on Deadguy-style decks, I do know that they generally were crafted to get huge benefits from Dark Confidant and play some of the best removal in the format with Swords to Plowshares and Vindicate. Deadguy got a tool awhile back from Coldsnap in the form of Jotun Grunt, allowing it to recycle cards and act as a graveyard hoser against opposing decks. The Black-White formula might be a nearly complete improvement over just Mono-Black on the basis of the removal.

In such a deck, I would probably try Tidehollow Sculler, since being able to peek at an opponent’s hand means a great deal if you find out you have to play around cards like Stifle. I was never a big fan of Nantuko Shade, even though I knew it was in the deck to make a fast clock, and I’d look to put the Dark Depths combination in that spot. I’m not sure if it would end up being a great deck, but it does help deal with the Counterbalance problem if you run Seal of Cleansing or other cards maindecked or sideboarded.

Why I Don’t See Blue-Black Dark Depths Being Any Good

In short, Black-Blue decks have never been very good in Legacy. They lack really good board control spells, since Black has shabby spot removal. Blue doesn’t help either, and neither color can get Counterbalance or such off the board. You have access to Brainstorm and Ponder, but if you’re using those to find attackers, it’s much easier to just spend the time and mana on Tarmogoyfs instead of getting Dark Depths together. You’ve got Force of Will, but Thoughtseize is going to be better than Force of Will a lot of the time. The other downside of Force is that, in a deck aimed just at getting Dark Depths out, you’re in a bind because you want to use cantrips to find the combo but also want to hold some to actually utilize the defensive spell.

Yes, You Can Cram This Into Gifts Ungiven Shells

If you’re so inclined, you can Gifts Ungiven for Vampire Hexmage, Dark Depths, Grim Discovery, and Regrowth and be able to fire off the combination pretty inexpensively. The strange thing is that it’s probably best to just give the Gifts player the Dark Depths and the Hexmage, since, if they have the mana, Regrowth and Grim Discovery let them try for the combo twice. Similarly, giving them a Regrowth lets them get Grim Discovery back and use it to get whatever piece they’re missing and a land, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kitchen Finks, Wasteland or other utility card.

I love me some Gifts Ungiven, and I’m bummed that I can’t play with it that often in Legacy. It might be the final evolution of Dark Depths, since it supports Pernicious Deed and other alternative wins if you want. Unlike getting Painter’s Servant and Grindstone, the Dark Depths combination doesn’t cost a brazillion mana and lose to Krosan Grip. Finally, you can also run interesting one-ofs like Aether Snap, which can activate a Dark Depths even if an opponent can make a Counterbalance stick, or if you can’t realistically fight through their Stifles.

I’d have loved to get more time in with these ideas, especially the Gifts Ungiven plan, but I had some monumental legal writing for classes that somehow sucked up about fifty hours of my Magic time. That said, if you’ve been playing around with this combo and have an idea that I didn’t talk about or know a downside to it that I didn’t mention, please post in the forums or shoot me an email!

Until next week…

Doug Linn

legacysallure at gmail dot com

Quickfire: Island Sanctuary is a decent way to get counters on Luminarch Ascension!