Legacy’s Allure – Stomping Through St. Louis

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Wednesday, June 30th – This week, Doug looks at the results of the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open Series on its stop in St. Louis, Missouri. Check out why Doug was wrong about Thopter Foundry Control, get a sense on why Aether Vial decks are performing well, and learn about how old hits like Aluren are still playable. As a bonus, see what M11 card has got Doug excited to use with Grim Monolith and get the newest sideboard tech card, all in this week’s Legacy’s Allure!

This past weekend, the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open Series came to St. Louis again for some serious Eternal Magic. It was the last hurrah for Mystical Tutor, with the Mirage instant putting a sad zero copies in the Top 16. What we saw in its place was an assortment of Legacy standards and some outlier decks crop up, with tribal aggro, Zoo, and wacky combo decks making strong appearances. This week, I’ll be going through the results and talking about a few other things that have resulted from the Banned List shakeup. Let’s start out…

Ban Aether Vial! With sixteen copies of the mana-cheating artifact in the Top 8, Aether Vial made a strong impression. It crucially lets Goblins decks play more than one creature a turn (and get a lot of benefit from Goblin Ringleader) as well as enabling Merfolk decks to pour their mana into animating Mutavault, casting Standstill, or holding up lands for Stifle. It’s interesting to see Goblins see a resurgence, since the deck has been stale at best, or obsolete at worst, for a long time. The decrease in board sweepers in the format due to Landstill’s near-complete exit means that Goblins has the edge over time in matches where an opponent can only trade 1-for-1 with their creatures. On top of that, Goblins can easily crush Merfolk decks, and it can put real pressure on Zoo if it can generate card advantage. The continued popularity and success of decks that “just plain attack” demonstrates that consistent decks perform very well in large events, which we have known for awhile.

I consider Alex Bertoncini Merfolk deck to be the new face of the Blue fish. It utilizes Coralhelm Commander, which I anticipated would be a good boost to the deck (“called it!” moment #1). I have played a significant number of games with and against this Merfolk list since it debuted in Europe earlier this year; the Coralhelm Commander changes the dynamic greatly. It is wrong to think of it as a Lord; instead, consider it a 3/3 flier that can also make anything else you draw amazing. Merfolk can now play with 12-16 Lords, making the lowliest Cursecatcher fearsome. In some games, the Merfolk player could have their Silvergill Adept out and a Commander and, just by leveling up the Merfolk, create a menacing clock with only two cards. Because the Commander is both strong on its own and helpful to its friends, Merfolk needs to commit less cards to fighting; in that way, it creates card advantage like Standstill would.

On the topic of the Thopter deck with which Josh Guibault won the tournament, I have to admit I was surprised. I have toyed around with the Thopter combination in Legacy extensively, and I always felt that Counterbalance decks were a weak application of the combo. The reason is that the combination requires a bit of time and mana to set up and get going, and Counterbalance is best when you have already landed a cheap threat or two and can use the soft-lock to disrupt an opponent. Relying on a later-game combo like the Sword/Foundry means that you have to spend some turns grinding your Top or Counterbalance, holding back plays to keep mana up and not spending as much time advancing the board. I was so committed to UW Thopter/Sword with Counterbalance being weak that I had a draft article with a Mean Girls quote already written (“face it, Gretchen, ‘fetch’ isn’t going to happen!”). Now that it’s in the dustbin and I avoided an embarrassing situation, let’s look at why the deck did well here. Cards like Moat and Humility are obvious punishers on the aggro decks that were common at this event; if Zoo cannot resolve its Qasali Pridemage or Merfolk cannot land a flying Coralhelm Commander, they are dead in the water. The Thopter combination is obviously potent versus the aggressive decks that we have been seeing, since untapping with it in play reverses several turns of being attacked.

However, I can’t help but wonder how the deck would perform if those Counterbalances and Sensei’s Divining Tops were something more proactive. The soft-lock is cheap to play, and something like maxing out on Jace, The Mind Sculptor is obviously more expensive, but it might be the better call. Instead of running such a full Enlightened Tutor toolbox, the deck could opt for some number of Wrath of God to smooth out its games where it has a decent, but slow, hand against aggro decks. What about maindecking Back to Basics, one of the most brutalizing Enchantments in the metagame? There are so many avenues to take with this UW deck, which feels like the newest iteration of Landstill — it sits there for eight turns, doing nothing, and then there comes a moment when you understand that they have completely taken control of what is happening. I’m excited to see players run with it, maybe integrating Tezzeret the Seeker or similar cards.

We also saw a Dream Halls deck in 12th place, piloted by David Kring, demonstrating that the deck still has a bit of punch. Dream Halls and Aluren (which I’ll get to in a moment) suffer from the “well, it will lose to Krosan Grip” phenomenon, where players are scared of the deck because it is hosed by a popular sideboard card. Similarly, players are overconfident against the enchantment-based decks on the basis of their Krosan Grips. The success of Dream Halls recognizes that sometimes, the deck just beats a Krosan Grip — you don’t draw it, or they get around the instant anyway. I was very pleased to see Kring running the False Cure/Beacon of Immortality combination that I wrote about awhile back (“called it!” moment #2), a compact combo that can also buffer your life if you absolutely need it. With Conflux, you can be sure that you’ll get both parts of the combo. You essentially cast False Cure on the opponent, then hit them with Beacon to take them out from any life total with a minimum of fuss.

Dream Halls is untouched by the banning of Mystical Tutor, since it relies on Lim-Dul’s Vault instead to set up draws and find crucial pieces. You can be greedy with LDV, holding out for a pile with a Show and Tell and Progenitus in it, or you can just go hunt down that missing combo piece and play the card fairly. I wrote about the card awhile ago as being both powerful and underpriced, and now that Mystical Tutor is gone, the Vault has seen a huge price increase (“called it!” moment #3). I’m not sure Dream Halls has dominating power, but the deck has two ways to win — Progenitus or Conflux — and it can accomplish quite a lot with Show and Tell. If you are looking for a combo deck to play at Grand Prix: Columbus, Dream Halls is an interesting option.

Speaking of Lim-Dul’s Vault, Michael Pozsgay’s Mosswort Bridge deck makes good use of the Instant to look for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and set it up with the namesake Bridge. Originally developed by Adam Barnello, the list is a twist on an old fringe deck that would use Phyrexian Dreadnought to cheaply trigger Mosswort Bridge; the Dreadnought usually dies, but the card under the hideaway land comes out for free. The Eldrazi floating brain makes a great hideaway card; the Bridge actually casts the card, meaning Emrakul will kindly give you another turn of mischief. If the deck cannot trigger its hideaway lands, it can still play the Dreadnought and keep it around with Stifle. Packing a host of cheap Blue disruption, it can then ride the monster to victory. It is an interesting deck and I am interested to see if more players pick it up.

We also saw Imperial Aluren make an appearance out of the mists of time, captained by Scott Bielick to an eleventh-place finish. It was a deck that my team concocted before the first Grand Prix: Columbus and was sidelined for Flash instead. The deck plays its namesake enchantment, then uses Imperial Recruiter to find more Recruiters and eventually Dream Stalker, which bounces a Recruiter, which gets Cavern Harpy and then Parasitic Strix to combo out and kill the opponent. After landing an Aluren, the deck is very reliable and challenging to disrupt; there are only one or two windows of opportunity for stopping the creature chain before the opponent can only sit helplessly. Aluren can be disrupted by a Krosan Grip, but it can combo off in the face of a Ray of Revelation or Qasali Pridemage. The best time to aim a Pridemage at Aluren, by the way, is in response to their first Recruiter on the stack; if you wait for another “magic moment,” the opponent might be able to let your trigger sit on the stack until they kill you, playing creatures in response to the trigger. Also, note that Aluren does not require Imperial Recruiter; you can build the deck with Raven Familiar (which would probably become Sea Gate Oracle) and plenty of Man-o’-wars to replay the drawing creatures. It will still function well, but you lose out on some of the versatility that Imperial Recruiter adds.

Grim Monolith and M11 Cards

Though I’ll talk about the M11 cards when we see more of them, Time Reversal, the new Timetwister, looks very strong in Legacy. It is not just another Diminishing Returns. First, it does not penalize you for having to run four, the way Diminishing Returns does; no milling means you can safely cast all four Time Reversals in a game if you would like. Second, it does not require you to run between four and seven copies of your win condition the way that Diminishing Returns demands. This means you can run a sleeker combination deck.

The greatest downside of Time Reversal is its huge mana cost. On the other hand, Grim Monolith just became unfrozen, and it can generate colorless mana quite easily. Instead of trying to slot Time Reversal into a UB combo shell with Dark Rituals, what about running it alongside Grim Monolith and Voltaic Key in a Mono Blue deck? You can add in Dream Halls for extra acceleration or an alternate kill method as well. The most challenging part for me is figuring out how you would actually win; you can use Time Reversal to find Power Artifact and slap it on the Monolith for infinite mana, leading into a Stroke of Genius for victory. You can ostensibly generate storm copies, but the most obvious candidate, Brain Freeze, is awful with the reshuffling power of Time Reversal. It is a fascinating start to a deck that could potentially just play a Draw-7 on the third turn and slap down a win on the fourth turn, in ways that do not resemble anything we’ve seen previously in Legacy.

Null Rod Is Your New Friend

I expect both Grim Monolith and Thopter Foundry decks to heat up, which makes Null Rod an interesting choice. Storm combo will still be around, and Null Rod nerfs that strategy as well as halting equipment, Aether Vials and Thopter machines. If I were planning on playing Zoo, Merfolk, or Goblins, I would definitely consider Null Rods; they do a number on the equipment-based decks like UW Tempo, for example. I might even attempt to work it into Lands decks, since it shuts down Tormod’s Crypt and I don’t have to hold onto it like I do with Krosan Grip. The card is reasonably priced right now, so I suggest snagging a set. You’ll be glad you did.

The St. Louis tournament is a good start for your midsummer testing. Far from being a “lame duck” format where the top decks adjusted to the impending loss of Mystical Tutor and barricaded against people getting their last reanimation or storm triggers for awhile, the results are going to be representative of what to expect in Columbus. Now, you’ve got to go dig out those old Alurens and see if you still have any Cavern Harpies stashed away that you didn’t use as proxies. Get ready for lots of Zoo, flying Merfolk lords, and tribal Goblin sorceries!

Until next week…

Doug Linn
legacysallure at gmail dot com
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