Legacy’s Allure – Unprecedented Aggression

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Tuesday, September 22nd – With several recent high-place finishes at large tournaments, it seems that aggro decks of several flavors are resurgent in Legacy. Doug considers reasons why attacking has never been more popular, and considers three decks that were previously also-rans, but are now in the spotlight. Have new cards or shifts in strategy made these decks more powerful than they were before? Doug thinks it’s a combination of both, as he explains in this week’s Legacy’s Allure!

The results of the recent StarCityGames.com $5000 Legacy Open tournament in Charlotte make a compelling case that aggro is back. Well, aggro decks never really left, but it seems that they were on hiatus for awhile when Counterbalance was the “it girl.” If you compare it to the Boston $5000 Legacy Open, you’ll see a very different, and far more Blue, Top 8. I think a bit of this can be explained by the decrease in board-control decks, strategies, and cards. For example, Engineered Explosives seems to be at an all-time low, held in check by more Wastelands and Stifles. Wrath of God and Damnation are also on the decrease. Another explanation for the success of aggro, and Zoo in particular, is the power of Qasali Pridemage in blowing past decks like Dreadtill. M10 brought two significant Tribal lords to Merfolk and Goblins, giving those two decks a creature that lets them hit a lot harder. The Lords also allow a player to hold a lord and another creature and recover more quickly from a sweeper, or alternately, apply pressure with fewer creatures and lessen the effect of something like Pernicious Deed.

Let’s look at the three reborn aggro decks that you’ll have to contend with at an event:

Alix’s deck is pure muscle. Wild Nacatl and Qasali Pridemage have pushed Zoo from a contender into a superstar. In return for the extra Cats in the maindeck, Alix moved the ubiquitous Price of Progress to the sideboard. His deck features Path to Exile, an improvement over Swords to Plowshares in that a Zoo player doesn’t care much about an opponent getting another land, especially when the alternative is lifegain for the opponent. Several other players at the event ran similar decks and had great results; one of the biggest differences, and sources of great debate, is whether Woolly Thoctar is better or worse than Knight of the Reliquary (and does anyone else think of Knights of the Old Republic when they see this card?). The Thoctar isn’t hampered by Grim Lavamancer, but stares uncomfortably at larger Tarmogoyfs on the opposite side of the table. The Knight takes time to get itself together, but can easily be a 7/7 Vigilant monster in little time. The Knight has the added benefit of fetching Horizon Canopy to draw more cards.

Another important evolution from previous Zoo decks involves Sylvan Library. The Green Necropotence keeps the stream of threats coming and is especially punishing against a deck that cannot easily deal damage. For example, it’s often safe to go down to 8 or even 4 life against Landstill, as they cannot close the gap and kill you quickly, while the Chain Lightning and Wild Nacatl you just drew will make sure they never get a chance to mount an offensive. Combined with the many fetchlands in the deck, it acts as a Sensei’s Divining Top to get choice spells every turn. The Library acts sort of like a Dark Confidant, but removes the need for another splash color.

The Zoo sideboard cunningly avoids the unwinnable matchups like combo and instead, aims to turn into the scariest deck possible post-board against the rest of the field. CounterTop will come out the winner if it can land its eponymous combo, but can it do that through Choke, Vexing Shusher, Red Elemental Blast, and Krosan Grip? Can other aggro decks punch through the extra Jitte and the Swords to Plowshares? Probably not; Alix’s sideboard is well-built and shows an understanding of building for a metagame, especially in the sense of crafting a sideboard so that you play every postboard game with a deck seemingly built to wreck whatever you’re playing against.

Next, let’s look at another deck, risen from the dead: Goblins, piloted by Jonathan Benson to a 1st place finish at the Meandeck Open.

This list came in first out of 40 at the most recent Meandeck Open in Columbus, Ohio. The Mono Red Goblins deck skips out on the traditional splash cards like Warren Weirding and Swords to Plowshares (lately Path to Exile) for a new and scary take on the classical Goblins. This list eschews Rishadan Port and Mogg Fanatic for a full set of the new Goblin Chieftain and other thrillers like Mogg War Marshal and Stingscourger. With eight lords that grant haste, the Echo goblins have a real shot at hitting for some damage, even if you don’t want to pay for them to stick around. Consider that with a Goblin Warchief out, Stingscourger is an Unsummon and a Lightning Bolt for a Red mana. With the Chieftain, it’s similarly beefy. A Mogg War Marshal under the Chieftain spawns an instant army. Jonathan’s use of these two goblins with the haste-granting lords shows a good understanding of how to cheat with Echo. Namely, the Echo cards are fair if you are only paying for the effect that they grant, but they’re outstanding when you get an attack in before you have to think about paying for them to stick around.

Jonathan’s sideboard packs the usual hosers, along with a pair of Boartusk Liege. I had to think about why he would run a mediocre creature like the Liege, but in a Mono Red deck, it’s one of the few answers to double Engineered Plague. Without a way to punch past the black Enchantment, Goblins is dead in the water. While two Goblin Lords can keep each other alive through the Plague, any bit of removal will end that protection. Instead, Boartusk Liege, with its healthy butt, sticks around so the other Goblin lords can buff the team up as well.

This list looks well-positioned for the current metagame, aiming to play a more mid-range strategy than the previous Goblins plan of mana-stalling the opponent to crush them with card advantage. This deck is poised to bounce that Tarmogoyf or Rhox War Monk and crash in with some Mogg tokens, creating a different kind of tempo advantage by forcing the opponent onto the defensive and hitting them with tricky cards. I’m glad to see the Chieftain played already, especially in an aggressive build like this. Perhaps this Goblins list is where we start when we think of playing Goblin Guide in Legacy?

As long as we’re digging up older decks like Goblins, did you see this Affinity list, that made 4th at the Meandeck Open?

Olwen is a seasoned veteran of Magic and packed this interesting Affinity build at the Meandeck Open. It shows several interesting departures from traditional Affinity. For example, gone are Shrapnel Blasts and Berserk, with Master of Etherium taking their place. Olwen’s creatures are slippery, especially with Arcbound Ravager and Thopter Foundry; spot removal will kill one creature, but its essence will stick around to haunt the opponent. Speaking of Thopter Foundry, the card looks insane! I have these images that start with Disciple of the Vault on the table along with Arcbound Ravager. With a very reasonable number of permanents, an opponent can get dinged from the Thopter Foundry triggers, catch more when the Ravager eats the Thopter tokens (Ravager hungry!) and then finally take the Ravager to the face. Outside of miracle-level plays like that, the Foundry is nice for simply acting as a buffer against artifact removal and punching more damage through Disciple. I like the Foundry so much that I would cut the Ethersworn Canonist from the maindeck for it, but maybe I’m just being greedy.

The sideboard takes advantage of Affinity’s strange ability to easily make any mana combination, largely due to Springleaf Drum. Affinity rarely has enough room to sideboard in many cards, so Olwen’s list concentrates on stoppers like Runed Halo and Engineered Plague as unexpected bullets. This list ultimately feels more consistent than the traditional Affinity builds that would try to be aggro decks and not really know what they were trying for. This one feels consistent and powerful, able to string out threats like Master of Etherium in a way that avoids total blowouts from cards like Krosan Grip. Thanks to strong artifacts in recent sets, I think it’s safe for Affinity to drop down to an Esper manabase and skip out on standards like Shrapnel Blast.

Putting It All Together

With the rise in aggro decks (those of you with Premium should check out the stats in Steve Menendian’s article yesterday about Legacy aggro trends), how can players who shy away from attacking with a menagerie handle more attackers? I think it’s worth considering if a deck can support cards like Wrath of God; Landstill could switch out its Humilities for Wraths, at least in part. Because there are several different aggro decks coming up, hating out one doesn’t do much for others if the answer is something like Engineered Plague. I was thinking of broad solutions the other day and thought about cards like Sun Droplet. With two in play, you gain a life point from each damage dealt, so a slower deck that can stall out an aggro opponent can present a near-impossible barrier to victory where each Lightning Bolt becomes a Healing Salve. Though they wouldn’t survive Pridemages, they’re along the lines of a good, permanent solution to both the creatures and burn that one is likely to face from aggro. Answers like Humility or Engineered Explosives with Academy Ruins certainly go a long way, but they don’t prevent a deck like Zoo from just burning you out or Goblins sandbagging a Lord and a Piledriver and killing you from nowhere.

I’m very pleased about the rise in aggro decks, perhaps because they usually feel pretty fair, even when they’re very good. When I lose, I feel like I’ve played a game of Magic. It also speaks to the strength of the format that the game’s most powerful control cards, like Moat and The Abyss, cannot keep a good attacker down for long. I know I mention this a lot, but decks like these are a good way to introduce people who have Extended cards into the format.

Join me next week as I talk about some new Zendikar cards, the new unbannings in Legacy, and some updates on decks I’ve been tinkering with! Until then…

Douglas Linn

legacysallure at gmail dot com