Zendikar is officially out and, with the new Legacy Banned List, we’re going to talk about things old and new. These two events have the potential to really shape Legacy; combined together, they come close to how influential the Future Sight set was for Eternal formats. This week, I’ll go over some of my favorite cards in the new set alongside possibilities for the newly-unbanned cards.
I’ll get this out of the way upfront: Dream Halls is probably not good enough to be playable. It depends on either getting a 3UU Enchantment into play or paying 2U for Show and Tell to cheat the retail price on Dream Halls. However, there are some significant upsides to the spell. First, the alternate cost is paid by discarding a card, not removing it from the game. I have no idea why the developers chose to design the card that way, since it makes the card much, much better and takes it off-theme from the free-spell mechanic of Alliances. This means that you can use Dream Halls in conjunction with something that shuffles the graveyard back into the library to get more benefit from your cards. Turbo-Zvi used this principle to recycle Inspiration(!) with Gaea’s Blessing to draw the opponent out of cards (!!!).
Second, Dream Halls benefits from Wizards’ current theme of making big-mana spells actually worth casting. Taking a big departure from the past, where there was essentially no reason in any format to get to seven mana (I think the first time we had a reason to do this was Take Possession), we’ve received some interesting new sorceries recently that really push boundaries — the two most significant for Dream Halls are Conflux and Cruel Ultimatum. Conflux has the advantage of getting a spare Dream Halls if the opponent Krosan Grips the one on the table; it grabs another copy of itself and then whatever method you want to use to kill the opponent with. Cruel Ultimatum can be that card, as can numerous others. Perhaps the most interesting is Grozoth and four Searing Winds, making the first time any of those cards have been played in a constructed format ever.
However, Dream Halls requires lots of bad spells that are unplayable without the enchantment. Alternately, you can build a decent monoblue list that probably intends to Brain Freeze the opponent. That deck would almost certainly be worse than High Tide decks, though. Ultimately, it’s a card that won’t be doing much any time soon. It’s a growth card though, much like Survival of the Fittest; it gets better with every set. Whether we’ll actually see any cards worth dropping out with Dream Halls remains to be seen.
This card is a misprint. It’s actually a red card, made for red decks like Burn. The fundamental problem of a burn deck is that it has to rely on the draw step painfully early in the game to get the final points of damage. Alternately, it has to run cards like Ankh of Mishra, Grim Lavamancer and Isochron Scepter to try for repeatable damage sources. Bloodchief Ascension is probably the best card that Burn has seen in quite a long time. Consider a game that starts with Burn dropping this card on the first turn. Past that, Burn “flips” the card on turn 3 or so; it’ll likely get 6-8 damage in on the opponent without any more spells being cast by the burn player. This gets them out of the Counterbalance problem that can grind Burn to a halt. Further, Bloodchief Ascension triggers on itself! It’s one of the few quest cards where one copy on the table helps trigger another. Thus, not only is a duplicate Ascension not dead, it’s actually much stronger than the first because it requires much less to actually begin its work! While it might be acceptable to Force of Will a burn spell for two life, four life makes the calculation absolutely punishing.
Bloodchief Ascension is going to be a hard fit in just about any deck aside from burn, since creatures are a very unrealiable way of getting this activated. If you want it in a monoblack deck to benefit from cards like Hymn To Tourach, you likely won’t see any value from it. However, if you’re running it in a burn deck with black, it opens up to hybrid burn/disruption cards like Blightning, which is about the scariest card ever to cast with an active Ascension.
Entomb can be played fairly or unfairly. For example, I think Entombing a Golgari Grave-troll is a pretty fair move. Dredge would likely want to cast One With Nothing instead; Entomb used in this manner only guarantees one Dredge, where Putrid Imp and Tireless Tribe enable several more. Entomb also helps graveyard-reliant toolbox decks. It can bin a Life from the Loam, a Raven’s Crime, an Engineered Explosives to recur with Academy Ruins or even wacky things like Exile Into Darkness. These applications seem essentially fair to me as well.
On the more powerful side, there’s also the Entomb/Necromancy/Protean Hulk combination. One Entombs the green beast, then reanimates it with Necromancy (cast during the Attack phase as an Instant or at an endstep), resulting in the Hulk dying at the end of the turn. If the Hulk doesn’t get hit with Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares, it cracks open a lethal and convoluted combo. Here’s one walkthrough:
-Hulk dies, getting Body Double and Carrion Feeder. Body Double copies the Hulk.
-The Feeder eats the DoubleHulk, which then gets Reveillark and Bile Urchin.
-The player sacrifices Bile Urchin and then Reveillark, getting back Bile Urchin and Body Double.
–Body Double comes into play as Reveillark. Carrion Feeder eats the BodyLark; the Lark trigger gets back the Body Double and Bile Urchin.
The last part is somewhat confusing (how can the Body Double/Reveillark see itself in the graveyard?) but it does work. After a number of iterations, the player has an arbitrarily-large Carrion Feeder and as many Bile Urchin activations necessary to kill the opponent from any life total.
It’s a powerful combination, but it’s vulnerable to several cards. Engineered Explosives set at 1 and Pithing Needle naming Carrion Feeder are both tremendously annoying. Swords to Plowshares stops the Hulk combo before it even starts. Graveyard hate is both common and crippling. It’s also reliant on a three-mana spell (Necromancy or Footsteps of the Goryo), meaning that absent acceleration, it cannot come online before the third turn. All this considered, the Entomb Hulk combination has the advantage of needing to run as few as one Protean Hulk and can run other cards like Deep Analysis to juice up Entomb.
Entomb also has potentially sick applications with the Auriok Salvagers combination. In short, you can use Lion’s Eye Diamond and the Salvagers to generate large quantities of any colored mana. Entomb enables the deck to take a reanimation tack, binning the Salvagers and casting Reanimate with a Lion’s Eye Diamond around. It can also put cards like Pyrite Spellbomb in the graveyard, the perfect position to abuse with the Salvagers. The coolest part of this deck would be that it would enable me to run my Japanese Phyrexian Furnaces, but that’s pretty unexciting to anyone else. It’s another angle to think about when considering Entomb; if you want to cast Reanimate, it should probably target a Salvager instead of a fattie.
Entomb can also get Nether Spirit in the bin, which is exciting for me only because of how relatively painless a Contamination lock would be to set up and how backbreaking it would be to get in play.
So many misprints in Zendikar! This is actually a Blue card. I say this because Blue is the only color consistently capable of finding duplicate spells and casting them, thanks to very cheap cantrips. Cast Ponder, find Brainstorm, then use another of each and Ascension is good to go! Two counters are a very cheap commitment on the card, and two mana can sneak in during the early game. This card is also fine as a lategame topdeck, since most cards drawn at that point will duplicate one you’ve already cast.
After it’s active, this card makes simple spells like Ponder or Fire/Ice truly impressive. The biggest barrier, for me, is that there are so few spells that are really crazy to copy. If this were Vintage, we could play two Demonic Tutors to get Black Lotus and Time Walk, then duplicate Gifts Ungiven and seal everything up. In Standard, one can turn Time Warp into Time Stretch, Divination into Tidings, Day of Judgment into… well, you get the point. Unfortunately, Legacy has neither the cheap busted cards of Vintage, nor the relatively slow environment where casting Time Warp is an actual possibility. Much like Britney, Legacy is not a girl, but not yet a woman.
Pyromancer Ascension is a natural fit for a Red/Blue deck (with new fetchlands!) that plans to Xerox little spells for a big gain. It could potentially run something like Intuition for Lava Dart or Deep Analysis, but that seems unnecessary. It’s a card that rewards you for just casting spells, which puts it in league with historical powerhouses like Psychatog and Quirion Dryad. I’m at a loss, however, to think of cards in either blue or red that really benefit from duplication. I’d love to see some enterprising designers run with this card. We’ll probably see a Japanese deck in Extended that blows this card way open.
Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths
One of the most hyped combos from the new set, these two cards can summon Cthulhu frighteningly early. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth can make this a turn-2 possibility. A monoblack deck can run heavy hand disruption and draw like Night’s Whisper or Tainted Pact, leading into a token that laughs at Progenitus. We know the upsides (flying demon horror), but there are also some downsides. Dark Depths doesn’t make mana. The token can easily be removed by a bounce spell. It folds to Stifle. The Hexmage needs two black mana, meaning it isn’t very splashable.
Most of these problems can be solved, curiously, by another card that Wizards has graced us with in the same set. Grim Discovery is not just a Limited card. It pulls back both halves of the Dark Depths combo, ready to unleash that horror from the ice again the next turn. On the insane redundancy that Grim Discovery provides, I think Dark Depths can easily be a monoblack deck. It can even be, believe it or not, a budget deck. While Dark Depths has really taken off in price and will likely not come down any time soon, it’s a cheap card to pick up in the context of Legacy. The rest of the deck is manageable as well, with cards like Thoughtseize being the other big ticket items. If you can keep Counterbalance off the table, the combination is almost unstoppable when it can reload from Grim Discovery.
– It remains to be seen whether Metalworker will be playable or good.
– Archive Trap helps milling deck strategies, especially with Twincast. If this deck is actually playable, it runs Trapmaker’s Snare so it can realistically get Archive Trap enough. It probably also runs Merchant Scroll.
– Ravenous Trap really changes the way graveyard-reliant decks play. I see more Unmask for Dredge.
– Magosi, the Waterveil, is a pretty techy card for Landstill or similar controlling decks. It enables a tap-out turn followed by an untap, so you can drop cards like Elspeth or cast Decree of Justice with impunity.
– Magosi can potentially make for a good Stax deck, alongside Paradox Haze. Both cards play well with Tangle Wire and are a beating when combined with Smokestack. Since Magosi is not Legendary, one can play multiples and then take several turns in a row. Meditate might want to play too.
– I don’t think Scapeshift into Valakut, The Molten Pinnacle is playable, but I really want to be wrong.
– Runeflare Trap can be triggered by Winds of Change, which is relevant because it is a monored combination.
Zendikar and the new Banned List changes will have a significant effect on Legacy. I’m excited to see how things could change up. I didn’t create sample decklists for the ideas I wrote about in this article, especially because I don’t want to color someone’s thinking about how to build a deck. If you’d like to see some fleshed-out ideas on a deck with testing, post in the forums or send me an email and I’d be glad to go more in-depth with it. Similarly, if you’ve done some work on a deck featuring these new cards, post it or email me about it!
Until next week…
legacysallure at gmail dot com