Legacy’s Allure – Loaming in St. Louis

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Tuesday, December 15th – The SCG $5K Legacy Open St. Louis this Sunday resulted in an amazing Top 8, bringing the revival of Aggro Loam and illustrating the consistently strong performances of Zoo and Merfolk. Check out Doug’s analysis of the four (!) decks packing Life from the Loam, and what it means for the format. With three pairs of decks in the final showdown, get a rundown on their similarities and differences to give you an edge on tuning the decks when you choose to play them at your next tournament!

We’ve just seen the first stop on the StarCityGames.com $10,000 Open tournaments in St. Louis, and what an auspicious start it was! I was unable to make it due to an Evidence final on Saturday and my girlfriend’s birthday on Sunday, but it was like I was there because of the amazing coverage. If you checked in over the weekend, you saw a live feed with a chatroom covering the feature match of the round. The commentators were enthusiastic and, although they didn’t always know Legacy cards, they did an impressive job covering the format. I am very excited that I can spectate every Legacy tournament on the calendar. If you haven’t checked out the Top 8 yet, take a look at what made the cut.

The story of the St. Louis Legacy tournament starts with this card:

The Return of Aggro Loam

Life from the Loam is a curious card, a draw engine that gets a lot better when you can make it draw you something other than lousy lands. With the cycling Onslaught lands like Tranquil Thicket and utility like Wasteland, that’s entirely possible. Loam also combines well with several creatures in the Legacy format that actively care about your graveyard, namely Knight of the Reliquary and Terravore. It also works well with Seismic Assault, guaranteeing at least three lands on every draw step to chuck at an opponent. With a cycling land, one can use the draw trigger to dredge back Life from the Loam, a nifty ability that lets you grab the land you just cycled and a good way to refuel for more Seismic shocks.

In Legacy, we’ve seen Loam Aggro decks come in and out of popularity. For awhile, Loam Aggro packing Devastating Dreams was brutal in the format and performed very well because the Dreams was a game over for Goblins, the deck to beat at the time. Goblins, being a surprisingly mana-hungry deck, would be set back several turns on lands and lose its entire attacking force. Loam, in the meantime, would stick a hungry, hungry Terravore and punch through for sickening amounts of damage (since Terravore counts both graveyards). The deck got edged out of the metagame because it had problems with Counterbalance, an issue that the Extended deck grappled with and lost to as well. A Sensei’s Divining Top with a Daze floating on the top of the library shut down almost every card in Aggro Loam, leaving the Counterbalance player to sit on their counters and removal for anything that got past the soft lock.

With the decrease in Counterbalance decks, especially at the higher tables, it’s not surprising that Aggro Loam did so well. I certainly wouldn’t have called that it would put two players in the T8, but it’s not anomalous. When everything goes right and Aggro Loam doesn’t lose to its own manabase, it’s a machine. It’s got two draw engines in Life from the Loam and Dark Confidant, disruption in the form of Chalice of the Void (which it can always set at 1 with no harm), recursive Wastelands for decks with greedy manabases and creatures that can all end the game on their own.

Brian Boss and Pat McGregor took different paths with filling out the rest of their Aggro Loam decks. McGregor’s deck was a solid tribute to the Extended deck of the past, utilizing a simple list that cuts out a lot of utility cards for Countryside Crusher and Maelstrom Pulse. I like his list a lot, since it looks to execute the same plan every game and has enough redundant cards to do that. Brian’s deck looks a lot like the Legacy Aggro Loam deck, utilizing both Dreams and Burning Wish. The Wish gives him access to a lot of tools like the fourth Life from the Loam and spot removal, at the cost of some consistency in the deck. I think Brian’s list is also great, and I’d probably play it over Pat’s because I’d want to be clever and run stupid Burning Wish targets, but Pat’s is probably more likely to make a repeat T8 performance.

If you predict a rise in Aggro Loam in the metagame, there are several ways to beat it. First, you can play combo. The deck is a dog to it, like everything else in the format. Second, cards like Spell Snare are powerful against the deck, since its curve is concentrated at two mana. Next, graveyard hate cards, especially Extirpate, are potent from the sideboard to stop the Life from the Loam engine. Removing the Loam means they have to play fair off of the top of their library and stick a big creature to win. You can aim for their manabase with Blood Moon to decent effect; their basic lands and Mox Diamond can get around the enchantment, but many of their cards are very color-intensive and you can stop the sick “Loam twice in a turn” line of plays.

Living Lands: The Rise of 43 Lands

The T8 also featured two more copies of the Lands deck, also known as Lands! and 43 Lands. I’d predicted in several columns that this deck would see some more love in the coming year and this is the start of it. Maybe this is actually a tournament defined by Mox Diamond, which is now pushing even higher prices. In any case, the Lands decks have shown that, by playing around the usual conventions of Legacy decks, enterprising players can substantially weaken their opponent’s deck. For example, what does Swords to Plowshares or Force of Will do against the deck? Neither stop its Life from the Loam engine, which draws the deck three or more cards each turn. It reminds me of Dredge in many ways in that the deck makes many of an opponent’s draws dead. Playing against Lands results in one of two possible games. The first is that the Lands player will be unable to find a Manabond or Exploration in their first three hands and start with maybe only five or four cards. This is the game you want. The second game is where they play Manabond on the first turn, dump five lands into play and then discard Life from the Loam. This is usually where you should just scoop ’em up.

With cards like Maze of Ith to stall the attack phase, Lands can draw out a game so that it can use Life from the Loam three times a turn, dumping its hand with Manabond whenever profitable. I’ve often felt like I’ve had a game locked up against Lands when they play two Mazes and stop all attacking. The deck sees a lot of cards, especially with Gamble, so it’s not challenging to set up an a-Maze-ing defense. It can also bring back Mishra’s Factory every turn as a chump blocker until it can go on the offensive.

Chris Andersen and Owen Turtenwald played very similar lists, mostly differing on card numbers for a few slots. Both played Intuition and Gamble, giving the deck more access to the critical green Sorcery as well as toolbox lands. Their sideboards are very standard too, running the critical Zuran Orb as well as Krosan Grip, useful for fighting Back to Basics and Tormod’s Crypt. Owen chose to run Chalice of the Void as well, which can fight Burn (a bad matchup) and combo decks, as Lands doesn’t stand a great chance against combo.

Much like Aggro Loam, Lands has problems when the opponent has an active Counterbalance. It also faces a tough time against Zoo and Burn because both pack the game-ending Price of Progress. The burn problem is easier after sideboarding, when Zuran Orb lessens the blow of the spell, but it can be a total blowout in the first game since you have no way to stop it. Lands can take the first game of three easily, but it has to fight the problem of graveyard hate and nonbasic land hate in subsequent games.

Perhaps the biggest downside of Lands placing so well is that we’ll see The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale rise to even more sickening prices.

Fish Is Still A Factor

Even with Zoo being popular currently, Fish placed two players in the T8. I’ve written about the deck a lot before so I won’t go into the mechanics of the deck too much, but it’s important to note its performance as well as the reason why you’ll see a lot of it. When you read the T8 Player Profiles, you’ll see that our very own Sam Black chose to play it because it was the easiest deck to assemble for a player who doesn’t have a Legacy collection. Merfolk has been predicted to be popular at these tournaments for exactly that reason. As long as the deck results in good placings like at this event, Fish will be a factor at every StarCityGames.com tournament stop. The maindeck is mostly solved, with only a few slots to play with. Black chose to run Umezawa’s Jitte and a Vendilion Clique, while Sam Cocchiarella ran two Kira, Great Glass Spinner. Kira can fuzz a removal spell when played from Aether Vial and makes a lot of targeted removal postboard worse. It flies, which is very relevant, and both the Clique and Kira have non-Merfolk creature types, which matters when opponents play Engineered Plague. Sam also packed Cosi’s Trickster for another beater and a single Riptide Laboratory. With so many creatures in his deck being Wizards, Sam can use the Meth Lab to pull back creatures that are on their way to the graveyard or lock up an opponent with a Vendilion Clique.

Mark Larson Shows Us the St. Louis Zoo

Mark’s Zoo deck is important for the technology of Steppe Lynx over Kird Ape. The Lynx can often be a 2/3 in Zoo and, thanks to lots of fetchlands, can be a 4/5 on the second turn. Yikes! The Lynx forces new considerations about opening hands; if you have a Savannah and a fetchland, do you play a Wild Nacatl on the first turn or do you play the Steppe Lynx in your hand? The answer is often going to be playing the Lynx, even though the first turn Nacatl is one of Zoo’s best plays. The Lynx makes the deck much more reliant on white mana early in the game. Mark also skipped over Sylvan Library for more Chain Lightinings and Lightning Helix, giving him more reach in the early game but sacrificing a very good draw engine for Zoo.

The Lynx makes this deck a bit worse in the mirror, since Kird Ape could stare down a Grim Lavamancer or Umezawa’s Jitte decently well, while the Lynx rolls over. However, when many Zoo games rely on getting in fast and early damage, Lynx can act as another burn spell in a deck tuned to get the most power out of a single mana every turn. Among Qasali Pridemage, Steppe Lynx and Wild Nacatl, I really wish the deck could run Isamaru, Hound of Konda so I could call it The Truth About Cats and Dogs.

The Next Evolution of CounterTop Decks

Jeffrey Cosgrove ran a Natural Order/Progenitus/Counterbalance Bant deck that represents the latest evolution of CounterTop decks. It has the usual game of trying for the soft lock while attacking with Tarmogoyf and can also push for the power play of Natural Order for Progenitus. At first, the Natural Order plan seemed win-more to me, but I’ve come around to embracing it as a way to handle sticky matchups where CounterTop can’t afford to sit and outmaneuver an opponent, especially when there’s no Counterbalance in play. We’ve seen that the Natural Order versions of the deck are really the only ones putting up significant numbers, so if you’re planning on slinging Counterbalance, you should probably pack the Hydra too.

All in all, this was a very cool tournament and it was great to have the GGs Live guys covering it in real time too. The quality of coverage and the speed that Bill Stark cranked out updates was on the level of, or exceeding, what we see at most Pro Tours. 2010 will be an awesome year for Legacy!

Until next week…

Doug Linn

legacysallure at gmail dot com