I woke up this morning to some strange hangover dreams about the GP — is it only two weeks away? Did I get all my cards already? What if it was this Friday, I don’t even have my sideboard planned out yet, much less my deck choice! As my coffee set in, I realized that I had plenty of time to get my ducks in a row, but I needed to get working on my sideboard most of all. One thing about Legacy sideboarding is that since the field is so diverse, you really have to pack broad answers against individual cards instead of narrow answers against specific decks. If you’re fighting Counterbalance, it might be from the UW Thopter deck or from Next Level Blue or Bant CounterTop. You also have many options to throw at an opponent’s strategy. To that end, I have constructed a list of seven top threats from an opponent in Legacy, along with reasonable and ridiculous ways to fight them. In no particular order, here they are!
Life from the Loam sees play in the 43 Lands archetype, and generally represents heavily graveyard-dependent strategies. In addition to just bringing back Maze of Ith and Tranquil Thicket, you can also consider the Crucible of Worlds/Wasteland lock in this category. Decks like Landstill and UW Thopters also pack the anti-land combination, and when either Crucible or Life from the Loam get going, they create incredible advantages.
The way to fight them most effectively is the use of graveyard hate, but what kind? All colors have access to Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus. These are highly efficient and colorless answers. However, they are one-shot solutions to reoccurring problems. If you are playing against an opponent who is on Dredge or Lands, they will often just attempt to slow-roll their engine, forcing you to take out only a few choice cards with your Tormod’s Crypt. While Crypt and Relic are good cards that answer a variety of problems, I suggest expanding your view if you really want to nail these cards. For example, you can fight Life from the Loam with Ravenous Trap, which also does a number on Dredge decks. I like the Trap because it is completely unexpected, and often lulls an opponent into taking big risks. If you run out that Relic on the first turn, they can hit it with Pithing Needle or Null Rod and you’re out of the game already. However, a first turn with nothing from you — no Crypt, no Leyline of the Void, and so on, makes your opponent giddy, especially when they don’t see those cards again for the next few turns. Ravenous Trap exists in a class on its own as far as graveyard hate goes, so pick up a set so you can have options.
Another good, but narrow, card is Extirpate. It rips out the whole engine from Lands decks and can sweep away all the Wastelands you fear from the game. Extirpate is a tricky card in the sense that when it’s good, it is very good, but it is often bad. For example, you are probably not going to use it to just nerf an opponent’s Brainstorms. Against a deck like Reanimator, Extirpate will stop only one or two Reanimation targets, and is woefully bad against Exhume. If you play Black cards in your deck or you have room for an Underground Sea, then Extirpate is a dynamite card to bring in for narrow situations where you need to remove one specific card. I am currently seeing how I can fit three on the sideboards of many decks I am toying around with.
Though Mystical Tutor is gone, I don’t expect Reanimator to die — it still has Entomb, it’s still got all those giant monsters, and the deck packs some of the best disruption in the game. Though it will have to slow down its fundamental turn, I don’t doubt that we will see a good number of Reanimator decks on Day 2 at the GP. Part of its power comes from the versatility of its reanimation targets. You cannot fight Inkwell Leviathan the way you can fight Iona, Shield of Emeria. Reanimator will often pack its own counter-sideboard strategies, so your Tormod’s Crypts might fall to their Pithing Needles or Nature’s Claims.
If you’re playing a deck that folds to Reanimator’s creatures, your first step is to identify how they will kill you. If your opponent is going to beat you with the robotic Akroma known as Sphinx of the Steel Wind, then you can point a Path to Exile at it. If they want to lock you down with Iona, then maybe Karakas is the correct answer. One card that we’ve been using a lot of in Vintage in GW hate decks is Tariff. It has not made a big appearance in Legacy, but I believe it is the most effective way for a deck like Zoo to tackle Reanimator. The big appeal for me lies in why I like to counter a spell with Pyroblast instead of rip it out with Duress. An opponent has spent time crafting their play and dedicating resources to making it happen. Catching them at the last moment is mega-greedy, but sometimes you need the sick blowout because merely good plays, like dropping that Tormod’s Crypt, won’t get you there. It reminds me of that old Vintage question of whether you counter the Dark Ritual. Believe it or not, especially in the time before Storm, we weren’t sure whether you stopped the Academy deck’s Dark Ritual or held that Force of Will for what was to follow. When the Rector Bargain player fires up that Dark Ritual on the second turn, did we just want to Mana Drain their Academy Rector that we knew was coming and go crazy on the next turn? Often, it turned out that such Dark Rituals powered up a Duress or Cabal Therapy to clear out your card, and then resulted in something like a Wheel of Fortune or other bad news. I eventually learned that you just have to counter the Dark Ritual instead of being a greedster and waiting for the outcome, because you can generally still outpace the combination deck with your normal lines of play. However, if you’re playing a deck like Zoo and have few reasonable ways to get rid of a Sphinx of the Steel Wind, then a Tariff that incidentally knocks out three of their spells devoted to setting up the monster is the best way to play it.
Emrakul, that deific brain-squid, comes out, troll-like, from under the Mosswort Bridge at the mere sight of his friend Phyrexian Dreadnought. This is the backbone of the Aeon Bridge deck that has seen some success recently, and it provides a weird enough combination that it can be hard to fight.
First, you can challenge their Mosswort Bridge with Pithing Needle or Wasteland. They might outstrip your speed, though, and put out Emrakul with a Show and Tell or just cheat a Phyrexian Dreadnought into play with a Stifle on its back. Emrakul’s Protection from Colored Spells sets up a giant filter on what we can appropriately stop it with. We can go with indirect answers like Meekstone, send him back with a Karakas or even attempt to snuff him with a Brittle Effigy.
A favorite solution that I am tinkering with is Aether Spellbomb, especially in any deck that runs Academy Ruins. The Spellbomb comes down early on any mana you have, and you can send Emrakul or the Dreadnought back to the most unfortunate place for it to be — the opponent’s hand. If you are not able to recur Aether Spellbomb or you want something that doesn’t require you to hold up a blue mana every turn, then Seal of Removal is also good, although it is a one-shot effect (until Wizards prints Serra’s Stronghold, that is…).
America’s favorite soft-lock is still powerful in this format, especially paired with Thopter Foundry. You can use the ubiquitous Krosan Grip if you have green available, or you can attempt to pre-empt them with a Pithing Needle naming their forecasting Top. If you want to step a little outside the normal, though, you can lock down that meddling player with Choke. If the opponent has a basic Plains, they can still grind the Top every turn, but Choke essentially stops their other plans. A deck like UW Thopters can burn an Enlightened Tutor to get their Engineered Explosives for your Pithing Needle, but Exploding a Choke takes a huge pile of mana (and three colors — some UW decks don’t support any splash colors).
The tricky part of beating Counterbalance is that they can reliably counter your Ray of Revelation or Qasali Pridemage. You can counter that by going to higher mana costs with Engineered Explosives or Reverent Silence. If you want to use a two-cost spell and don’t want to splash to different colors (maybe you’re playing Merfolk, for example) you can use the ultimate insult: Steal Enchantment. Use their own lock against them! Truthfully though, Steal Enchantment is just a little too silly if you are only aiming it at Counterbalances.
Merfolk looks like such an innocuous deck. It plays creatures that for the most part, do not affect the board in meaningful ways. However, the fourth turn rolls around, they use Aether Vial to drop out a Merrow Reejerey, they put the last counter on their Coralhelm Commander and play out a Lord of Atlantis to tap down your blocker. You get hit with twelve points of damage, all out of nowhere. Things are looking grim for our wizard.
Damage-based solutions like Firespout and Pyroclasm are great in the early game, but you have a hard time beating the Lords if they have two or more in play, since they quickly escape burn range. Cards like Pernicious Deed and Engineered Explosives are great, but they take up a lot of mana against a deck with Wastelands and Stifles. I am more inclined to fight Merfolk with cards like Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale. If you don’t have those lying around (who does?) then you can make Propaganda work effectively as well. It also does a great job against Thopters and zombie tokens from Bridge from Below, making the blue enchantment worth its place on a sideboard. Do you have more cheekiness than good sense? I suggest Magnetic Mountain then, as a way to really stick it to those ocean-dwellers! If you want a bizarre answer that also stops Progenitus, then Circle of Protection: Blue is the best you can get.
The Storm Mechanic
Storm combo decks are still alive and well, thanks to Empty the Warrens being fueled by Tinder Walls and the Infernal Tutor/Lion’s Eye Diamond combination making up for Mystical Tutor’s exit. Luckily, there are several great colorless options that any deck can play against combo. Running Leyline of Sanctity protects you from Tendrils of Agony, but does nothing to stop fourteen Goblins on the first turn. If you are set up to handle creature swarms like that (with, say, Engineered Explosives) then going for the Leyline is a fine option. However, it is often better to just attack the mana that combination decks use to cast their storm spells. A Sphere of Resistance or Thorn of Amethyst slows both Tendrils and Belcher decks down dramatically, since they often rely on stepping up their mana in one-mana increments. If you have early disruption like Thoughtseize, then you can possibly wait until you get three mana and lock them down with Trinisphere. There is also the ultra-frustrating Chalice of the Void with zero counters, which shuts down vital swathes of artifact mana accelerants.
You should not overlook Mindbreak Trap, either. It is unexpected and takes out all of the storm copies. Much like the ultra-greedy play of Tariff that I discussed earlier, this is a fragile plan (a Duress will stop it) but there are some matchups where you need to either stop them big or just die. Remember to let their Storm trigger actually trigger, so that your Trap removes all of the copies from the stack.
Thopter Foundry Combo
Legacy players finally caught on that this is a sick combination. You sacrifice Sword of the Meek to Thopter Foundry, which brings it back over and over again, gaining life, making blockers and creating a flying army. With five or six mana, it is nearly unstoppable, and graveyard hate is poor against the combination (if they have another artifact, they can sacrifice it to bring the Sword back in response to your Tormod’s Crypt).
You can slow down their token creation with The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, or you can shut down that flying army with Silent Arbiter or Dueling Grounds. I also like Pithing Needle, since it covers so many problems. If you are playing Zoo and fear this combo coming down to stop everything you worked hard to create, Ancient Grudge does a fine job at trashing their necessary Thopter Foundry. Krosan Grip also worms its way past their Counterbalances, doing double duty. If you need a Black answer, then Engineered Plague stops the Thopter problem cold, and fights decks like Goblins along the way.
Packing That Sideboard Together
Consider this list of potent Legacy threats as not only a list of what to sideboard against, but a compilation of some of the factors you will have to deal with if you want to succeed with a rogue deck. If your sideboard can handle these threats, or your maindeck doesn’t care about them, then you probably have a good deck to play at the Grand Prix and GenCon. If nothing else, pack Null Rods on your sideboard; whether you are playing Zoo or Dredge, they will have numerous relevant targets against most decks in the field.
Or you can go crazy, Gabriel Nassif style, and run fifteen one-ofs…
Until next week…
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