Tinkering around with an Entomb/Protean Hulk deck recently that ran Dark Confidant, I found that I could never get the little black card drawer to actually stick. Every deck, every game I played, every deck could burn, smother, or remove the Confidant, often before I actually got an extra card out of it. That brought me to three conclusions:
1. There’s a lot of creature hate out there.
2. Running only a few creatures opened them up to very easy removal.
3. My Hulk list was really awful.
It’s that first point that motivated this article; how was it that every deck could take care of Bob? It brought me to a lot of research regarding just how much creature kill there was in the format. I searched thirteen tournament Top 8s from the last two months that had turnouts over 32 players and compiled some information along the way regarding some of the possible axioms of Legacy. I’ll present you with the number of copies per Top 8 and then the average number per deck where appropriate. It’s an imperfect way of measuring, since if something appears eight times, it may only average one copy per deck, but really be run in four-packs in two decks. Thus, there’s ample notes and discussions.
The results are helpful for thinking about tournament preparedness and deckbuilding. For example, running those four Dark Confidants just wasn’t working for me because I’d never get any value out of them and end up turning on a dead card in my opponent’s hand. That’s not -1 card advantage, it’s like minus a million. Similarly, relying on just one creature for a win condition is precarious unless it’s as untouchable as Progenitus. I’ll get to the results of the creature kill analysis in a bit, but first, let’s look at some of the other big deckbuilding considerations when looking at Legacy decks.
The glue of the Eternal formats, Force of Will is a huge consideration when looking at whether to play a combo deck like Cedric Phillips suicidal Belcher deck from the Charlotte $5000 Open recently, or a homebrewed concoction that promises high storm counts or infinite life. For the thirteen events, here are the total quantities per event:
That works out to a little under four decks per Top 8 running Force of Will (with #6 throwing off our numbers a bit). A large number of these decks were Merfolk decks, which are quite popular in Europe. All events save two had at least three decks in the Top 8 with Force of Will, making it an incredibly common card. We can interpret this information several ways; first, it’s a real gamble to play a deck that’ll fold to a Force of Will. Decks like Enchantress can have real difficulties in the first game beating an opponent who effectively uses their counterspells; other decks, like my Hulk deck, needed a lot of support in the form of Thoughtseize to actually punch through. Second, since the ubiquitous counterspell requires roughly sixteen Blue cards to operate reliably, anti-Blue sideboard cards are a good bet. These can be specifically aimed at punching through counters, like Pyroblast or Vexing Shusher, or they can be aimed at Blue’s support in the form of Choke.
These data also support the idea that Force of Will makes an attractive tournament prize.
I am the greediest ever when it comes to manabases, so the least number of Wastelands, the best. We’ve seen a lot of Strip Mine Lite lately, coming from tribal decks like Goblins and Merfolk, lockdown and disruption decks like Whitestax and BG Suicide and pure tempo monsters like Canadian Threshold. It’s another common card in the format and a real pain if your plan involves Academy Ruins or Dark Depths for advantage. Let’s look at the numbers:
Running the gamut from a lowly three copies to a crushing twenty-five Wastelands, the nonbasic shows up with little consistency. Most Top 8s had four decks running Wasteland. This is bad news for me, good news for folks bother to run basic lands. Speaking of that, I anticipate that the enemy colored fetches will both increase the stock of Stifle and decrease that of Wasteland. Being able to get a Plains, Forest, and Island relatively easily to cast that Rhox War Monk helps decks like Bant Threshold secure a good board position while an opponent tries to tempo the player out. I was surprised by these results; I anticipated closer to eight copies of Wasteland per Top 8; in the future, my greedy manabases will include Crucible of Worlds or Life from the Loam (but still no basics!). This is also important because decks that run seven or more basic lands can make opposing Wastelands essentially a dead draw. It’s a rare deck that can do that (Enchantress and Merfolk come to mind) but it’s a subtly good situation because it prevents an opponent’s deck from doing what it really wants to do.
The premiere threat from Legacy, the bane of deckbuilders, that Blue enchantment that locks down games and frustrates players wanting to play an honest game of Eternal, Counterbalance is everywhere and confounds Legacy wizards all over the world. Or does it? Take a look at how many copies show up in each Top 8 I looked at:
Seven tournaments with no Counterbalance to speak of? The most popular event only had two Counterbalance decks? This was the biggest find of my whole data-mining adventure. I devote a lot of my testing toward beating Counterbalance decks and I’ve scrapped lists that perform poorly. This has really made me rethink what I’m going to test against, which is liberating (no Counterbalance!) but also confounding (what to replace it with?). It’s a good example of how popular wisdom doesn’t really play out on the magical battlefield. Now, Counterbalance decks might be on the rise in the near future, so let’s not rest on the topic just yet. However, this is a good example that the archetype isn’t as dominant as a lot of people think, and calls for banning Sensei’s Divining Top or Counterbalance might be misplaced at this point.
Grip is typically run as a foil to Counterbalance; it can usually destroy the enchantment and can also remove other problematic permanents like Vedalken Shackles and Sensei’s Divining Top. If people suspected there would be a lot of Counterbalances floating around, did they pack an amount of Krosan Grip that reflects that?
About half the decks in each Top 8 were running three copies of Krosan Grip on the sideboard. It’s an amazing utility card, for sure, but I wonder if we can’t make a more focused sideboard. In decks that really don’t fear Counterbalance or have other ways of handling it, would Ray of Revelation or Ancient Grudge be better? What about Kor Sanctifiers or Tin Street Hooligan? I bring up these examples because they all handle just about every problem child we’d encounter from across the board, but give a bit of extra value too. They can’t eat Sensei’s Divining Top, but I think it’s a little foolhardy to be bringing Grips in just to munch on Tops.
The result of so many Krosan Grips is that decks reliant on an artifact or enchantment fare poorly. For example, Krosan Grip tends to keep Grindstone/Painter’s Servant combos in check and has singlehandedly killed Aluren decks. A Grip from the board of Zoo makes that Moat, The Abyss or Pernicious Deed a little less strong. As a result, I’ve concentrated my decks and sideboards to pack answers that avoid getting hit by Grip, which is not easy — skipping out on some of the format’s best hosers because they’ll always be blown up can make for narrow choices (Burrenton Forge-Tender over Circle of Protection: Red, for example). In spite of this, Enchantress seems to place decently well, in part because Sterling Grove goes a long way and also because the deck is very redundant.
Finally, let’s look at the spot removal in the format. This is the least scientific measurement I made; what constitutes spot removal? Something that kills Tombstalker doesn’t always kill Dark Confidant, and vice versa. What about a card like Submerge that removes it temporarily, or like Mind Harness, which steals a card, or even Hydroblast, which kills some creatures really well and leaves others untouched? In the end, I decided on a somewhat arbitrary metric. I’d count all 1-for-1 creature killing spells that were under three mana, weren’t sweepers (sorry Firespout), and could kill most creatures in the format. I didn’t count burn spells (otherwise burn decks would throw the stats tremendously) but I did make an exception for Lightning Bolt. I counted Gempalm Incinerators, since they usually eat a creature when cycled. The list, ultimately, shows a good representation of the number of dedicated creature kill cards that you’ll find in a deck.
Going back to the point that spurred this article, just about every deck runs cards that can directly kill a problem creature. The big exception is Merfolk, which often packs Umezawa’s Jitte. Some decks ran in upwards of six cards, including dual-purpose ones like Putrefy. Others ran exactly four Swords to Plowshares. Path to Exile makes for more great white spot removal, so I was curious that a lot of deckbuilders just maxed out the number of Swords and then were done with the entire concept. We need to be aware that we can go up to five or six removal spells at that color and cost; this means that we can solve problems with Path to Exile that we previously needed to dip into other colors for. I also expected a lot more Paths in aggro decks, but some, like White Weenie, packed Swords, inexplicably. The land is much less relevant than the 4+ life an opponent gains, so I attribute most of it to laziness.
Because removal is so cheap and plentiful, banking on Phyrexian Dreadnought or Mishra’s Factory to get there without a way to recur them is a losing strategy in the current Legacy metagame. I’m particularly interested in decks like Chris Hartten’s Bitterblossom Tempo deck from the Philly StarCityGames.com tournament because the Black tribal enchantment can make a lot of problematic tokens if his Tombstalkers take up farming.
I was surprised by several results in my metagame digging; while I didn’t look at every recent tournament, I selected ones from several Legacy hotspots to illustrate that Legacy has a global metagame in many ways. Taking a look at the numbers like this is a useful exercise every so often; I don’t think Force of Will, Krosan Grip or Wasteland are going anywhere, but knowing how much of each card shows up in a region helps an astute player choose a powerful deck.
Until next week…
legacysallure at gmail dot com
Here are the results lists, corresponding to the number before every result above: