Legacy’s Allure – Digesting the SCG Dallas / Fort Worth Legacy Open

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Tuesday, January 12th – This weekend’s tournament in Dallas brought out some old standbys and new decks for Legacy. In this week’s article, Doug looks at the ubiquity of Merfolk decks and the curious choices of the two Zoo decks, along with tips for mirror matches and sideboarding strategies. Find out the newest tech and synergies to get the most out of these top decks in this week’s Legacy’s Allure!

This past Sunday saw Legacy players dueling in Dallas, Texas in the latest stop of the StarCityGames.com Open Weekend tournament series. The turnout was great and the results were fascinating. You can check out the Top 16 decks here and get a sense of what was out in force. From week to week, we’ve had different decks not only show up in the top spots, but we’ve had very cool and diverse lists take home the top prize! Several of the players in the Top 8 interview said they were pleased by the diversity of Legacy; if you’re jaded on Jund in Standard, then Legacy is a great diversion.

After ogling the top two decks, I next noticed that there were five Fish decks in the Top 16. This has been solidly telegraphed and is not unexpected because Merfolk, along with Zoo, is one of the easiest decks for non-Legacy players to pick up, borrow, or assemble. All five decks have different little tweaks, while maintaining the same core across the base. For example, there is the mana denial element of Daze and Wasteland, often backed up with Stifle. All run four Lord of Atlantis and Aether Vial, along with typical merfolk sidekicks.

The differences in the decks come in the last four to eight slots. In the past, I’ve seen both Spellstutter Sprite and Vendilion Clique, and I was very surprised that neither, especially the latter, made an appearance in any of the decks. Kevin Ambler, the highest-placing Fish player, ran Tarmogoyfs in his list, which has precedent and makes for a good creature both in the face of anti-blue hate and the pounders of Zoo. Merfolk has a challenging time sticking Lords against Zoo’s burn, so having a 4/5 to absorb attacks or swing for the fences was a good call. All of the lists run some number of Umezawa’s Jitte as well, a great choice for dismantling Zoo creatures and one of the very few removal elements available to the mono Blue deck. Bradley Barnett ran a single Cryptic Command, which gets incredible style points but makes me wonder if he ever actually cast it. I mean, not in the Patrick Chapin way of explaining how good a card is with “have you cast this spell? Has it ever resolved?” but the “you run twenty lands, eight of which don’t make the Blue mana and four of the aforementioned that self-destruct.” It’s a great card for removing troublesome permanents, no doubt — Fish often runs Echoing Truth for that very purpose. However, if I am going for the techiest thing I can, it’s going to be a single Mirrorweave.

From the sideboard, Fish has one of the most unexpected hosers in Back to Basics. I say it’s unexpected because we know that it’s there, but it rarely registers on the list of threats we expect. With its’ land-light manabase, Zoo is especially vulnerable to Merfolk’s Blue enchantment; Back to Basics is also potent in many other matches where Fish needs to slow down the opponent postboard. Some number of Relic of Progenitus are good because they’re one of the few things worth bringing in postboard against the mirror in place of a whole lot of cards that have to leave the maindeck.

Speaking of the Fish mirror, it’s uncomfortably awkward. I say this while acknowledging that I have a problem with the overuse of “awkward,” especially among 19-24 year old females attending college. Waiting for a keg to stop foaming while you stand around it is not awkward, and neither is running into your friend’s ex. The Fish mirror, though… awk. It’s not just a problem of wanting to get rid of Standstill, your worst card in the beginning sixty. Your Lord of Atlantis helps out his bros across the table, but you have to keep it in because you simply need warm bodies and every now and then, he enables amazing alpha strikes. Your Stifles are dramatically worse against Fish than they are against just about everything else, but you might keep them in because you probably don’t have enough sideboard cards to bring in for both Standstill and Stifle. The Islandwalk issue actually creates disincentives for playing Islands! If you expect the mirror, which you should, the best card for it is probably Sower of Temptation from the sideboard. Wake Thrasher is also lordly in the maindeck because it’s nigh-impossible to remove and just bigger than everything else.

Let’s shift gears and look at the two Zoo lists that made the final cut — both are variants on the usual Zoo list, but both support interesting tweaks. Zoo is also a common deck at these Legacy events for the same reason Merfolk is — it’s easy to build and many players already have most of the parts for it. It runs six dual lands, but it’s not like they’re good dual lands, they don’t even tap for Blue! Tom Ross played a mostly standard Zoo list, but look closer — there’s no Price of Progress! The 1R Instant can usually get at least eight damage in against an opponent and it’s strange to see it missing without an immediately evident reason. Gaddock Teeg, Sylvan Library, and Figure of Destiny aren’t quite on the power level of the Red burn spell. Price of Progress would have turned the tide for Tom in his finals match against James Palaima’s 43 Lands deck.

Anthony Avitollo ran Dark Confidants in place of the burn spell, which is a fine tradeoff; unanswered, Bob just turns the tide in Zoo’s favor and the usual problem of Bob getting burned out is ameliorated by the deck having just too many good creatures that have to be removed, diminishing the bullseye on Confidant. Tom and Anthony both opted for Kird Apes over the recent development with Steppe Lynx, a conservative call that has been time-tested. Anthony’s sideboard packs a whopping seven Duress effects, which gives him an edge against Belcher and also decks like Enchantress that can stumble if they face disruption and a quick clock. Anthony packed two Wastelands in his four-color deck; I’m not sure if I’d go that far, since it seems a little greedy and two unsupported Wastelands aren’t going to make a huge difference in most games. I would probably exchange them for another Plateau and maybe a Bayou.

Perfectly positioned to prey on the multitudes of Fish decks, Simon Sung’s Canadian Threshold deck ran two Grim Lavamancers to shock sea creatures. While it would seem counterintuitive to run both cards that rely on the graveyard’s size and ones that actively munch the cards in the bin, it’s often better to just transform into a pseudo-burn deck against Merfolk if one has the option. Their draw engine is lackluster and their creatures are small, so it’s foreseeable that you’ll be able to feed Lavamancer and still punch through with Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyfs. It reminds me of the Grove of the Burnwillows/Punishing Fire combination in Extended Rubin Zoo, where the downside of giving the opponent some extra life is greatly outweighed by having a machinegun against their creatures.

Drew Feder and Erik Mynatt both ran Imperial Painter, a deck that utilizes the Painter’s Servant and Grindstone combination as a method of killing the opponent. The engine of the deck, however, is Imperial Recruiter. This P3K card can grab the Servant or a host of other problematic cards for the opponent. For example, it tracks down Magus of the Moon to cripple colorful decks or Figure of Destiny to go the beatdown route. With a Painter’s Servant naming Blue, the deck can utilize the eight maindecked Pyroblast effects as either solid counterspells or Vindicates. Further, it can go get Jaya Ballard, Task Mage with the Recruiter, enabling widespread permanent destruction with her spellshaping powers. In many matches, it appeared that Imperial Painter would just lock out an opponent with Magus of the Moon and go the beatdown route. Since it can change modes from combo to beating so efficiently, it makes for a potent opposing deck. It’s a deck that I hope doesn’t become too good, as Imperial Recruiter is harder to find than Waldo in a candy cane factory.

Aaron Wayne, of previous tournament fame this year, chose an older, but mostly unknown, deck utilizing Blue and White weenies with mild disruption and draw spells. It makes for a very aggravating deck to play against, because you have annoying creatures like Mother of Runes to deal with. It makes use of Fathom Seer, the hot card from last week’s Legacy event, to both Gush and turn on Weathered Wayfarer and Knight of the White Orchid (which makes me think of the White Stripes every. time.). Serra Avenger can come in a turn early from Aether Vial and is just as strong on the fourth turn. Perhaps its most pesky quality is vigilance; with Umezawa’s Jitte, Avenger becomes an attack n’ block machine. It’s a cool deck that’s fundamentally fair, a welcome change for players who want Blue counterspells and sufficiently beefy attackers.

Now for some quick hits on other elements of the event:

• Frankie Mach’s Dredge list is solid; no Lion’s Eye Diamond makes for a less explosive, but more consistent deck. The Nix on the sideboard is a hilarious answer to Ravenous Trap!

• James Brennan’s Aggro Loam list looked great for the event, thanks to the Chalice of the Voids and truly monstrous creatures to fight Fish and Zoo with. I had figured he would have torn up the Top 8 if he had made the cut.

• James Lance piloted Ad Nauseam Tendrils to a high finish and what’s interesting about his deck is the use of only one Ad Nauseam. The cantrips and Mystical Tutors do a fine job of pulling up the namesake Instant and there are fewer big spells to hit while drawing from Ad Nauseam.

• James Palaima’s loss in the finals was due to a third warning, this one stemming from attacking with creatures while he had Glacial Chasm in play. Bummer of a way to lose the finals of an event! James seems like a cool guy so I hope he wasn’t fazed by this and tightens up his play for future events.

• As far as I know, the Top 8 did not split the prize, which is awesome. Gotta be cutthroat!
• Watching the live video and participating in the chatroom while the event was going on was a positive experience and helped me understand some plays and spot errors that players made. If you want to pick up some play tips, it’s a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

What a great event! The series reminds me of the height of Extended season, where there are new lists and results to chew over just about every weekend. It’s an exciting time to be a Legacy player.

Until next week…

Doug Linn

legacysallure at gmail dot com