Legacy’s Allure – Ride The Snake: Lorescale Coatl In Action

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Tuesday, May 26th – After weeks of talking about how Lorescale Coatl might make a big splash in Legacy, Doug finally gets around to making his own Coatl deck. Inside, find out why he abandons “natural” choices like Sensei’s Divining Top and instead, dips into Magic history for a different take on aggro-control. How can such a deck beat formidable problems in the format like Swords To Plowshares and Sower of Temptation? Can a player hitch their star to a fragile winged snake and fly it in to victory? Find out inside!

After talking about what Lorescale Coatl might do for several weeks now, I finally sat down and started working on my own take on the deck. The first step was obviously watching this video to come up with the article title and then going from there. I’m still in the process of tuning the deck, but my goal in this article is to show you my deckbuilding process as well as give you a (hopefully) killer deck.

Let’s start with the fundamentals. Why do I want to put Lorescale Coatl in a deck? The best reason that comes to my mind is that you can make it huge quickly, which means you only have to control the board for a short period before you win. Patrick Chapin wrote recently about how Standard is full of mini-combos, and I see Coatl being a mini-combo with Brainstorm, Ponder, and a whole host of other Legacy staples. It’s in the right colors and a good mana cost. Unlike the other three-cost fatties like Knight of the Reliquary, Countryside Crusher and Terravore (welcome to the Terravore!), it doesn’t need anything special alongside to make it good, nor does it need a dedicated deck. Thus, I started with 4 Lorescale Coatl in my list.

Next, I moved to the natural picks in Blue – Force of Will, Brainstorm, and Ponder. It was at this point that I started my research into early Gro decks from Old Extended. I found this article to be really helpful in figuring out how to move forward. I chose to look at old Gro decks because they had a similar goal as what I was aiming for – stick a cheap threat and just cantrip to victory, pulling up counters to buy time. I think this goal is a lot better than the dedicated Coatl decks packing things like Life from the Loam or Sylvan Library to get the most out of the snake because you can spend time, mana, and card slots to run cards that are good on their own. To that end, I found what I think is one of the most powerful cards you can run – Winter Orb.

I’ve written about the Frostbringer several times lately, and in this archetype, it truly shines. I see it as the other prong of Coatl decks. On one hand, you build a deck with Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance and the Coatl, and hope to control the game and protect the Snake and friends, aiming for dominance in the late-game. It’d be natural in that kind of deck to run Sower of Temptation and Engineered Explosives as well. I angled towards Winter Orb instead because Gro decks need something to slow the game down, not take control like Counterbalance. Instead of trying to fight the opponent over something like recurring Explosives off Academy Ruins, I’d rather drop Winter Orb and not ever really worry about them activating the Ruins. It nearly shuts down Top and stops manlands as well. On the side, it makes Daze much more powerful and the deck isn’t actually hampered too badly by the apparent nonbo of Orb and Coatl (being three mana). The Super Gro decks of old actually ran the four-cost pounder Mystic Enforcer (though they had help with Gush making more mana), so it’s not without precedent. To sum up, I think you need either Top or Winter Orb in your Gro deck, though both are clearly a poor combination.

Putting in Winter Orb also cleared up some deck space; I didn’t need to fit in 4 Tops and 4 Counterbalance, so I had some latitude for other cards. I decided on running 4 Opt so I could cheat on my land count. I’m not sure if Opt is better than Serum Visions or not; it’s definitely better than Sleight of Hand because it actually lets you draw a card, beefing up the Snake.

I also got to thinking about what I want alongside Coatl. Running just four threats is risky, since an Extirpate, a Counterbalance, or another common opposing card might shut down the game entirely. I thought about Tarmogoyf, but I put Quirion Dryad in my list to play around with and swap out. It’s definitely the right call over the Green Monster. Dryad can routinely eat a Tarmogoyf in short order. It’s pretty bad off the top and also needs some support to get big, but I like the added utility of it having built-in combat tricks with the Blue instants in the deck.

I then came to the issue of removal and a possible third color for the deck. My thought process about each color follows, with the benefits and downsides as well:

Straight U/G: My best removal is probably Unsummon, Boomerang, or Echoing Truth. None of these three thrill me as a four-of in the maindeck. My sideboard options are also fairly limited.

Black splash: I would mainly splash Black for Snuff Out in the maindeck. It also enables Night’s Whisper and cards like Planar Void and Extirpate from the sideboard. I really wanted to run Black because Snuff Out is free, which is excellent in a deck that wants combat tricks and supports Winter Orb.

Red splash: My maindeck removal would likely take the form of Fire/Ice. I liked this idea a lot; I had another Blue spell that can tap blockers and pump Coatl, along with a removal spell to kill Dark Confidant. In the sideboard, I can bring in Pyroblast or Pyroclasm.

White splash: Historically backed, the White splash enables Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile in the main, along with Meddling Mage if I want it, and the possibility of Serenity in the sideboard.

I ultimately ran with White, since Swords is really that good. I had to overcome a huge urge to run Black for Snuff Out and I might go back to it, though I think Swords does a fine enough job. I also wanted to run Red, primarily because could be intolerably cute with Fire/Ice (end-of-turn tap my Winter Orb!). I don’t think the decision is final, but I’d need compelling reasons to drop White. I am not running Meddling Mage because I don’t think it really does enough in the deck. The best thing to name with him, in my opinion, is Swords to Plowshares, and I don’t want to cut myself off that. Otherwise, I’m naming useful cards that don’t really further my strategy. Sure, cutting the opponent off of Hymn To Tourach is nice, but is that actually something I need to do? Probably not.

I also dipped into the past for creatures 9-12, Merfolk Looter. It seems slow, fragile and janky, but it’s been a consistent performer in the past and present. There’s the option of Looter Il-Kor, but I find myself Looting before combat to pump my Coatl or look for a cantrip to bump Dryad, which often results in another point or two of damage anyway. Nominally, I can also activate it when attacking is impossible because of things like Moat, but that’s certainly not compelling. I’m comfortable with the Looter because it keeps cards coming every turn and mimics Dark Confidant decently. Gro decks tend to suffer if they cannot see multiple cards per turn through cantrips or the like, so some sort of Looter effect is necessary. That it survived multiple incarnations of the Gro archetype is a testament to its roleplaying ability. Thought Courier gives us another four if we want them, and one of the things on my to-do list is figure out how essential a Looting effect is and consequently, whether I want six or more copies of the card.

One of the real gems I came across in my research is Thwart. I immediately started two of them in my decklist and I have been really pleased. The idea is that when you get to three lands, casting Thwart doesn’t really cost any resources other than tempo (and the lands might be locked under Winter Orb anyway). You can sometimes live the dream with Coatl being immediately protected by Thwart. I’m not sure if I can support three of them, but I would like to try; extras can be reshuffled or Looted away, so there’s little problem of dead cards. Thwarting before you have a threat down can be a sad fact, since it means you’ve got several turns before you have the mana for Dryad or Coatl. Because of this, I’m pretty selective about what I want to Thwart. It’s an underplayed card in general, and it shines here. Best, it solves the problem of having big beasts in play but losing them to a sweeper or game-changing spell from the opponent. It ups the number of free hard counters from four to six or more, so you can more reliably “ride the snake” to victory. My only request is that you refrain from saying “Thwarted again!” when you counter something with it, as the pun is simply too obvious for sophisticated punners. An alternative, but unfinished pun, might revolve around “sending someone back to HogThwart.” [Man, even Rich Hagon wouldn’t stoop that low — Craig.]

Finally, I came to my usual fill-in when I am hurting for the last few cards, Cunning Wish. Nonbo with Winter Orb, Real Ultimate Nonbo with Thwart. Why would I even want it then? I don’t need really any more cantrips and I want something that has a little bit of later-game punch to it. Maybe it’s a concession to the late-game that I should not be making. I’m currently running it for the essentials (Krosan Grip, Berserk), the reasonable targets (Submerge, Thwart) and possibly the cute (Ensnare, Shadow Rift). I dig the idea of Thwart being Wishable, allowing me several more pseudo-hard counters in the deck. I don’t want to gum up the sideboard very much though, so I would probably only run about 4-5 Wish targets. These were the most malleable spots in the deck, though. I’m putting my mind on Shadow Rift again; it sneaks through my big pounders or effectively stops a blocker. Two might be good, but they might also be stone dead in many situations, so I’m staying with Cunning Wish with an option for Serum Visions or something else later. I’d definitely appreciate input on that front.

As far as the manabase goes, I’m comfortable with about sixteen to eighteen lands. I ended up running eight Fetchlands, four Tropical Island and two Tundra. The deck ended up looking like this:

4 Winter Orb
4 Force of Will
4 Daze
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Opt
2 Cunning Wish
2 Thwart
4 Swords to Plowshares

4 Lorescale Coatl
4 Quirion Dryad
4 Merfolk Looter

4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
4 Tropical Island
2 Tundra
2 Island

As far as a sideboard goes, I’d be comfortable with something like:

4 Annul
4 Submerge
4 Relic of Progenitus
1 Berserk
1 Krosan Grip
1 Thwart

Regarding Relic of Progenitus, one benefit of running Quirion Dryad is that we can possibly maindeck the graveyard-hoser. I want to test that avenue as well, perhaps cutting the Cunning Wishes and some number of other cards (Opt, most likely) to make room for four of the artifact. It shrinks Tarmogoyfs superbly and moderately disrupts most decks on the market. Chill is another sideboard option that pairs very well with Winter Orb, slowing Red decks to a crawl and giving you a chance against Burn decks.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be presenting more results of my testing and tweaking with the deck, and with reader feedback, it can become even more powerful. Don’t forget to post your thoughts and results with this deck, or any Lorescale deck, in the forum, or give me an email. Gro is my favorite deck of all time, so I love the possibility of playing it again, especially if I can cram my favorite card, Disrupt, in it somewhere.

I want to end with a look at two other hidden gems: Seasinger and Dominating Licid. The first is quite strong against most decks around when brought in from the sideboard, and it’s quite a pain in the tuchus to play around if you cannot immediately remove it. I saw Dominating Licid in my junk rare binder the other day and re-evaluated it. If you untap with it in play and have four mana, you can jack a creature and then save the Licid if the creature dies. It’s reusable removal that changes forms, meaning the opponent’s Swords to Plowshares or Naturalize might only work some of the time. This is an Oath of Druids scenario (one turn it’s an enchantment threat, the next turn it’s a creature threat) and thus, one of my favorite sorts of cards. Better than Vedalken Shackles? Maybe, as it can grab big beasties without the requisite Islands. I’d stock up on quads of both of these cards, since they appear to fill niches in Blue-based aggro-control sideboards.

Until next week…

Doug Linn

legacysallure at gmail dot com