Legacy’s Allure – Five Games, Five Plays

The StarCityGames.com Open Series comes to St. Louis!Thursday, June 17th – This week, Doug combs through his recent testing logs to bring you five games with six of the hottest decks in the format, distilling each game into one tactical play. Get a walkthrough on the decision-making process to decide when to use removal against Zoo, how to accurately name Pithing Needle targets with Reanimator and the skill in baiting an opponent to prematurely use their Tormod’s Crypts against Blue Lands. Get a sense of how to make tactical sacrifices and what to anticipate from the opponent in this week’s Legacy’s Allure!

I have been testing a lot of matches recently to get a grip on how different decks perform in Legacy. Often, complex play scenarios arise that cannot be foreseen when you’re sitting idly and thinking of how you would play through a situation. This week, I’ll be showcasing several of these scenarios that came up; particularly, I want to show you how sideboarded games progress. They are hugely important, but players rarely test them because it can take a lot of time to figure out what is the best sideboarding plan. Let’s get started!

Goblins versus Zoo

I was playing from the perspective of the Goblins player, toting Mark Brislin’s Goblins list from the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Atlanta against Matt Elias‘ tourney-winning Zoo list from StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Philadelphia. Goblins can have a rough time against Zoo, because you’re trying to hit these tribal synergies and they’re just trying to swing in with guys. I chose Mark’s list because it reflects a more Zoo-antagonistic take, with Lightning Bolts and lots of Pyrokinesis from the sideboard.

Zoo will kill Goblins with fast starts and follow up burn. Goblins will kill Zoo with overwhelming card advantage. Your goal as the Goblins player is to stay alive long enough so that you can start kicking off your Goblin Ringleaders and Siege-Gang Commanders. With Mark’s list, I was able to sideboard in a lot of good anti-Zoo cards, but the trick was figuring out what to cut. I ended up boarding out two Warren Instigators; they are unlikely to connect and will die to any blocker from Zoo. I wanted to replace the Warren Weirdings with better early-game burn, but you need them to tear up a Knight of the Reliquary or Tarmogoyf. Mark’s list also has the possibility of bringing in Blood Moons to try to manascrew Zoo, and I thought about doing this but realized that they would hit the board on the third turn at the earliest, and it would be a shabby play at that point. I also wanted to cut Goblin Piledrivers, since they also die to any blockers, but they are the core of the Goblins combo-kill. Goblin Lackey is also weak later in the game, but I feel it is stronger than the Pyrokinesis that I would be replacing it with.

In the end, I sideboarded:
-2 Warren Instigator
+1 Lightning Bolt
+1 Pyrokinesis

Zoo usually has only one or two cards to bring in against Goblins; their postboard plan is often just to try and race, or alternately, attack with much larger creatures and whittle down your field. When you make mulliganing decisions, you must consider that Zoo will have a 3/3 or a 4/5 on their first turn, and could follow up with a Tarmogoyf on their second turn. Slow hands are simply not an option here; you need that early creature removal to give you breathing room. You must discern how to budget your removal so that you hit the best creatures; the following example is a good indicator.

Goblins and Zoo have mulliganed down to five each(!). You kept a hand of Warren Weirding, Aether Vial, two Auntie’s Hovels and a Mountain. Your opponent leads with a Wild Nacatl. You draw a Badlands. You play an Aether Vial and pass the turn. On your next turn, the opponent plays a Tarmogoyf. You drew a Wasteland off the top. Do you want to use that Warren Weirding now? Deciding whether to use it indicates whether you want to play a Hovel now as well, so we want to get a good read on this.

We have four Lightning Bolts, a Pyrokinesis and a Stingscourger in the deck as removal that we can draw into alongside the Weirdings. Our hand has pitifully little action, so we want to live as long as possible. A Weirding now would probably kill the Nacatl, but leave the Tarmogoyf to grow. We can hold the Weirding if we hope to draw some removal, but the opponent can easily drop another protecting creature alongside to negate our edict effect.

In that game, I fired off the Weirding there, removing the Nacatl, as expected. I drew another Weirding the next turn, casting it after my opponent dropped a Loam Lion and Grim Lavamancer. The Lavamancer is incredible against Goblins, and I expected that the opponent would kill their Loam Lion to save it. When that happened, I used a Wasteland to cut them off of red mana and deactivate the wizard. The game went long, with two recharging Goblin Ringleaders, and the red army finally beat Zoo when it ran them out of gas, even in the face of Grim Lavamancer picking off a Goblin every turn.

Here’s another scenario: it’s the lategame, and Goblins is at 8 life to Zoo’s 14 life. I have an Aether Vial at 5 and one at 3. There are Auntie’s Hovel, Badlands and Mountain in play, and I just used the Vial to put a Siege-Gang Commander in play to accompany a tapped Goblin Ringleader. I have two more Ringleaders in hand, so I can start blasting them off next turn with my Aether Vial. My opponent has Taiga, Savannah and Mountain in play, with a Grim Lavamancer and Wild Nacatl out. They have a few cards in hand and have just declared an attack with Wild Nacatl.

The key question here is whether to block, and with how many blockers. You can block to kill with three tokens, you can chump with one, or you can let it through. If I let it through, I would drop to five life, which puts me in burnout range. If I chump block, I just lose a token. If I block to kill, I have to commit four creatures to avoid having Lavamancer burn one out, which means I will be losing my Siege-Gang Commander when I have to block with it. I should have elected to chump block, since I would be casting all sorts of nasty creatures the next turn; instead, I let it through and died to Grim Lavamancer and Price of Progress. Zoo has reach in ways that Goblins does not, and I often got into the mode that we were just playing a game of Pokemon where we summoned monsters at sorcery speed, attacked and then passed the turn.

While in that game, Goblins could do little to stop being burned out (eventually, Lavamancer would have just pinged enough for Price of Progress to be lethal), other games were lopsided for Goblins; they key was usually hitting a profitable Goblin Ringleader. Your guys are not often worth spending a card on; firing a Lightning Bolt at a Goblin Matron feels like sad, unfortunate overkill. A Ringleader is the perfect example of this — it brings out three or four cards and stalls for a turn, while you set up a gaggle of Goblin Piledrivers or start utilizing Siege-Gang Commander to blow away the opponent’s board. Unfortunately, hitting a good Ringleader trigger is just based on luck, so you try to get your margins elsewhere. That means remembering you can blow away a Lavamancer with a Gempalm Incinerator or triple-blocking so your Warren Weirding will hit the Tarmogoyf.

Natural Order Bant versus Reanimator

I’ve been pitting Jim Orr’s Natural Order list against Gerry Thompson newly tuned Reanimator list to see how the matches shake out. In his Legacy breakdown for the SCG Open in Philadelphia, Jared Sylva showed that, at that event, Reanimator was favored against Counterbalance decks and I wanted to see how true that was. Both decks present a lot of play decisions against each other, and I was set to see which worked out best.

I was piloting Reanimator against a deck that I knew would be bringing in Relic of Progenitus and Faerie Macabre. To that end, Pithing Needle would be great for fighting the opponent’s hate cards, since it even stops Macabre when it is in the opponent’s hand. It was hard to make the cuts for sideboarding; the deck is tight and I would often board out Dazes on the draw and be at a loss for what to board out on the play.

When I was playing, I boarded out:
-2 Mystical Tutor
-1 Coffin Purge
-2 Careful Study
+4 Pithing Needle
+1 Wipe Away

When I was drawing, I sideboarded:

-4 Daze
-1 Coffin Purge
+4 Pithing Needle
+1 Wipe Away

These were the boarding plans we went with, and I’m not totally sure that they’re right, but the Pithing Needles are definitely important here for stopping the Counterbalance lock and hate cards. You probably also want a Show and Tell, since it lets you avoid fighting graveyard wars at all, but I could not realistically find space for it.

My first example comes from the opening turn. I wrote down my starting hand, which was:

Careful Study
Force of Will
Pithing Needle

Underground Sea
Verdant Catacombs

This one looked really nice, so I kept it. I debated using Careful Study, but it backs up Force of Will and I can Thoughtseize to really wreck my opponent, who had mulliganed once. I used Thoughtseize and saw:

Relic of Progenitus
Relic of Progenitus
Swords to Plowshares
Noble Hierarch

Windswept Heath
Rhox War Monk

What a clunker of a hand! The opponent obviously kept because of the double Relic, but I had my Needle to take care of those. My two real options with my Thoughtseize were to either take the Hierarch and try to slow them down dramatically, or take a Relic and count on using Force of Will for the other. Since the Needle was a great 2-for-1 already, I chose to take the Hierarch and make my opponent flounder. I did not expect so much action and decision-making this early in the game! Unfortunately, my opponent must have drawn another land anyway because I soon saw two fetchlands on their side of the board. My Pithing Needle frustrated them for a long time, and I still stand by my early-game decision. My opponent ended up winning when, later in the game, they were able to put on too much pressure against my Iona, Shield of Emeria and I lost, looking for my Minamo, School at Water’s Edge or a second reanimated monster.

Here’s another opening hand that I wondered how to play:

Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Pithing Needle

Careful Study

It’s a keeper, but I remember being unsure of how to take it. Specifically, I did not know whether I should make Pithing Needle the first turn, play Careful Study, or even not play anything at all. If I play Needle, I can get it in right at the beginning and I have a 50/50 shot at actually hitting something they might have. I could Careful Study, setting up for a monster, but if they have a Faerie Macabre, I might not get it reanimated in time. If I had a creature to discard, I would probably start with Pithing Needle naming Faerie Macabre, since the opponent’s Relic of Progenitus couldn’t activate to sweep my graveyard after I did a second-turn Careful Study into Reanimate. However, we have to play with the cards we have.

I ended up making no play on the first turn. If my opponent had a Relic of Progenitus, they would play it on the first turn and I could shut it down. If they did not play a Relic, I could be more sure that they had a Faerie Macabre — you don’t keep a hand without one or the other unless you have something absurd like two Force of Wills with sufficient blue cards. It turns out my opponent did have the faeries after I Thoughtseized a few turns later. My opponent Brainstormed and put back a Counterbalance, because they drew it the next turn and locked me out of the game. Reanimator wants to see a whole lot of Pithing Needles to stop Sensei’s Divining Top, but it does not have a lot of draw power to make that happen. Natural Order Bant is an uphill battle, since they can afford to bring in a lot of dedicated sideboard hate and they are favored in the long game. The biggest decisions you will make as a Reanimator player will happen during turns 0-2 in the game.

New Horizons versus Blue Lands

Lastly, I’ll share some situations that came up with Chris Woltereck Blue Lands build versus David Price New Horizons list. I wanted to get some experience slinging New Horizons, since it’s up and coming and if I am going to play Blue Lands at the Grand Prix in Columbus, I want to know how to beat it. I was piloting New Horizons and had sideboarded thusly:

-4 Swords to Plowshares

-4 Daze
+4 Tormod’s Crypt
+2 Crucible of Worlds
+1 Engineered Explosives
+1 Life from the Loam

The idea with the non-Crypt cards was that I wanted to be able to blow away cards like Manabond, as well as recur my own Wastelands to manascrew Blue Lands. Blue Lands can really annoy New Horizons with Maze of Ith unless they have Wasteland handy. I was also somewhat worried about Ensnaring Bridge, since I would need to get a lot of mana to get Engineered Explosives going to clear it out (and in doing so, would lose any Knights or Terravores I had). The alternative was bringing in Krosan Grip, but I preferred Engineered Explosives because it could kill an Exploration on my second turn.

There is one element of this matchup that I want to pay particular attention to. When a player has a card like Tormod’s Crypt or Pernicious Deed, there is this inclination to not let that player get very much effect out of that card. As a corollary, the player with that card will want to maximize it; Pernicious Deed can kill multiple creatures, so cashing it in for just one seems like a waste. Cunning players will push an opponent with one of these cards into either using it too early or sitting on it too late. The use of Tormod’s Crypt against Blue Lands is an excellent example of this in Legacy.

One scenario that came up occasionally was similar to this: you have started with a Crypt in play and the opponent plays a land, a Mox Diamond, and then cycles a Tranquil Thicket. They have got to be grinning because the next turn, they cast Life from the Loam. You can activate the Crypt now, wiping out their Thicket and the land they discarded, or you can hold onto it to try and catch the Life from the Loam. If you let the sorcery resolve, they will be able to protect their Life from the Loam by cycling a Tranquil Thicket and then dredging. I have seen a lot of players unfamiliar with the match end up confused — why is this Lands player still dredging, still playing cards into my Crypt? Should I stop the cards they are Loaming back or should I try to take out the Loam itself? It is that one particular moment, when the player casts their Life from the Loam with a Tranquil Thicket visible, that you must make a decision that will shape the rest of the game. Giving up that Crypt to stop their Thicket means that your next Crypt can probably hit the Loam itself, but you are trading one of your most powerful sideboard cards for an Onslaught cycling land!

Unfortunately, in that scenario, I think it is right to hit the Tranquil Thicket, since you will be stopping an opponent from protecting their Life from the Loam. Knowing how to play around Crypt and especially, how to bait an opponent’s Tormod’s Crypt (or Relic of Progenitus) is a valuable skill when playing Blue Lands. Against New Horizons, I would often have scenarios where I could either slow-roll my Loams or try to get them to blow their Crypts early. However, if you have a Stifle in hand, it’s almost always right to try and hit the Loam and then Stifle the Tranquil Thicket activation.

I don’t have specific tactical decisions other than this with New Horizons versus Blue Lands, because the former is heavily favored in this match. Knight of the Reliquary kindly thanks a Maze of Ith for giving it another untap so it can get yet another Wasteland, and Crucible of Worlds is a total pain to try and fight as a Blue Lands player. This is the sort of matchup where you would want your own Pithing Needles to shut down Wastelands, Maze of Ith, Tormod’s Crypt and more, but currently, they are not on Lands sideboards. Most games, in my testing, were decided on who had to mulligan before they found either, respectively, their Manabond or their Tormod’s Crypt.


In-game tactical play, like when to use removal against Zoo or what to Thoughtseize against Reanimator, only gets better with actual playtesting. I suggest you set up games where you can play two-fisted testing matches, and not because you can see everything — it’s much easier to rewind a game that way and see how it would have come out if you did something differently. Understanding how to press someone’s Tormod’s Crypt as a Lands player is incredibly important, especially against decks that are less brutal than New Horizons and may be more heavily depending on their graveyard removal to tip the scales. I scratched the surface of tactical plays, based on my recent testing notes, but I would be happy to go into more in later articles or set up puzzles/scenarios for the reader to work through. Let me know by email, Twitter or posts on the feedback forum for what you would like to see. Also, please post if you want to discuss specific plays in this article!

Until next week…

Doug Linn

legacysallure at gmail dot com
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