Positive EV – Artifacts That Define Legacy, Stax Redux, and Grand Prix: Chicago

Play Legacy at Grand Prix: Chicago!
Wednesday, February 25th – The next stop on the Grand Prix trail sees the Magic populous descend on Chicago for a weekend of Hot Legacy Action. Manuel Bucher, currently living it large in Kyoto, brings us his White Stax deck, and talks about the four artifacts that he believes underpin the format. If you’re looking for a powerful deck for the coming GP, this is the article for you!

Chicago is the first major event after the Pro Tour in Kyoto. The major archetypes will likely end up being decks that pack one of the following key artifacts:

• Aether Vial
• Lion’s Eye Diamond
• Sensei’s Diving Top
• Trinisphere

At the last major event I played in this format, I chose to play a deck with Trinisphere. I ended up winning the Swiss Legacy Championship, running undefeated, and I posted a solid enough record at Worlds so I ended up qualifying for Kuala Lumpur.

This is what I played at the Legacy Championship (the list at Worlds was only a few cards off, but I don’t have access to that anymore):

4 Trinisphere
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Smokestack
4 Crucible of Worlds
4 Mox Diamond
4 Armageddon
4 Magus of the Tabernacle
4 Ghostly Prison
3 Powder Keg
4 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
2 Crystal Vein
4 Flagstones of Trokair
7 Plains
4 Wasteland

4 Defense Grid
3 Suppression Field
3 Sphere of Law
3 Rule of Law
2 Seal of Cleansing

The most recent set at that time was Lorwyn. Obviously, there are more possibilities for the deck now, but the core hasn’t change at all, and the strategy is still viable.

How the Deck Works

The goal of the deck is to lock your opponent, stopping them from attacking you and playing spells. The combination of Trinisphere and Smokestack lock up your opponent and stop them casting spells. As you are playing 56 permanents in your decklist, you are able to keep your Smokestack around (which usually has one counter) until you draw into a Crucible of Worlds.

Magus of the Tabernacle, which is the only kill condition in the deck, can either stall the board for a very long time or act like a pseudo Wrath of God with the help of Armageddon. Usually Magus of the Tabernacle survives this play, as you have either a Mox Diamond, a Crucible of Worlds, or you can follow up the Armageddon with a land.

Several lists use Exalted Angel as a kill condition (or as an early threat), but I think you are better off using those slots for more defensive cards. I don’t think you win a lot of games in which you don’t lock your opponent out of the game.

What Should You Change?

First of all, you should cut two Armageddon for two Ravages of War if you have access to the card. I didn’t have access to Ravages of War, but it didn’t matter at any point in the games I played (a split makes you less vulnerable against cards like Cabal Therapy or Meddling Mage).

Ethersworn Canonist seems to be a strictly better Rule of Law. Some cards obviously avoid the “only one non-artifact spell a turn,” but it helps your side for sure as you are able to cast another spell alongside your Mox Diamond in the mid game. Of course, your opponent can also play their Mox and a Chain of Vapor on the very same turn.

I did run Oblivion Ring instead of Seal of Cleansing at Worlds, and it was amazing for me in the Red “mirror” as I was able to deal with an early Arc-Slogger or Rakdos Pit Dragon. I could see playing another Red hoser if you don’t expect a lot of mirror matches. Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender seems to do a very good job there, as it also deals with Goblin Lackey.

I also think I would change one or two Powder Kegs into Pithing Needles. Being able to stop some of the key artifacts (Sensei’s Divining Top and Aether Vial) is really helpful. Obviously, Powder Keg is far better in both the Trinisphere and the Lion’s Eye Diamond matchup. While Pithing Needle is a dead card in both matchups, Powder Keg deals with Chrome Mox (with imprint on the stack) versus Lion’s Eye Diamond decks, and you can set it up for three in the mirror so your opponent is not able to stick the most valuable card: Crucible of Worlds.

My most recent list:

Versus Aether Vial Decks
The most common decks representing Aether Vial are Affinity and Goblins (which may be as red as a strawberry, but are definitely not that flavorful). Both those matchups are really hard. A turn 1 Aether Vial destroys your whole strategy in locking the game up so they are not able to cast spells, because they get a free spell every single turn. If they open with a turn 1 Goblin Lackey, or they play several spells on the first turn thanks to the very fair mechanic “Affinity for Artifacts,” you have several dead cards like Chalice of the Void or Trinisphere which are not helping you gain control of the game.

The upside of running this deck is that no matter how bad the match up might be, you can just “kill” them on the very first turn by casting Trinisphere.

Aether Vial decks are the reason not to run this deck. If you are expecting a majority of Aether Vial decks at the Grand Prix, you should not run this deck at the tournament.

The Pithing Needle and Suppression Fields are in the sideboard for these matchups. An unanswered Aether Vial will take over the game in very few turns. Suppression Field not only helps you stop Aether Vial, it is also very strong against the Goblin Sharpshooter kill (when they are unable to attack you with the horde as you have Magus of the Tabernacle or Ghostly Prison) and the Affinity decks (it makes Arcbound Ravager a bad Worker, and they have a very hard time killing you when facing a Ghostly Prison if they cant activate their Arcbound Ravager several times in a turn).

I don’t mention the other Aether Vial decks here as I don’t think they are that common in the format (such as Fish).

I usually sideboard out the four Chalice of the Void and a Powder Keg in this matchup, to bring in the Pithing Needles and the Suppression Fields.

-4 Chalice of the Voids
-1 Powder Keg
+2 Pithing Needle
+3 Suppression Field

Versus Lion’s Eye Diamond Decks
In the current metagame, Lion’s Eye Diamond is represented by Dredge and Storm decks. Their decks are built to kill as fast as possible, so their defence against cards like Trinisphere or Chalice of the Void/Ghostly Prison is very weak.

A first turn Ghostly Prison or Trinisphere will always win you the game against Dredge. On the downside, you are forced to mulligan into a turn 1 Trinisphere or Ghostly Prison if you are on the draw, or turn 2 if you are on the play. If you expect the majority of the Lion’s Eye Diamond decks to be Dredge, you should cut the Canonists from your sideboard and replace them with Tormod’s Crypt. I run Tormod’s Crypt over Leyline of the Void because I want to be able to cast them in the late game to keep Smokestack alive (this obviously doesn’t matter in the Dredge matchup, but it does in other matchups like Loam). A first turn Powder Keg should keep you alive for the first few turns, as it is very good at stopping Zombie tokens, but they probably pressure you with a very early threat like Akroma or Golgari Grave-Troll.

Against Storm, you probably have more time than against Dredge. I recommend you to mulligan aggressively into an early Trinisphere or Chalice of the Void. This matchup is easier as the casting cost of your hoser cards are cheaper and easier to cast (Chalice of the Void versus Ghostly Prison). I sideboard in Powder Keg in this matchup because it is better than your worst cards. Being able to kill Empty the Warren tokens (or Chrome Mox) is decent. I keep some Ghostly Prison because it can stop Empty the Warrens, while I keep some Armageddon effects because they actually run enough lands to be able to break the Trinisphere lock.

Versus Dredge
-2 Armageddon
-2 Ravages of War
+2 Tormod’s Crypt
+2 Powder Keg

Versus Storm
-1 Armageddon
-1 Ravages of War
-2 Ghostly Prison
+2 Ethersworn Canonist
+2 Powder Keg

I didn’t lose a single match against a Lion’s Eye Diamond deck during the period in which I played this build in sanctioned tournaments. This matchup seems very favourable, and you should play this deck if you expect a lot of Lion’s Eye Diamond strategies at the Grand Prix.

Versus Sensei’s Divining Top
Sensei’s Divining Top is represented by several kinds of Counterbalance Decks (featuring Nimble Mongoose, Tarmogoyfs or Dark Confidant). I think this matchup is in your favor (Patrick Chapin does not agree, and thinks it is very close to a coin-flip). I think they have to counter all the non-mana spells besides Powder Keg. They usually don’t have enough counterspells to stop you from resolving an important spell before they assemble the combination of Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance, as they are running only eight counterspell effects (Daze and Force of Will).

+4 Defence Grid
+2 Pithing Needle
-1 Armageddon
-2 Powder Keg
-1 Chrome Mox
-1 Chalice of the Void
-1 Magus of the Tabernacle

I sideboard out a Magus of the Tabernacle because they are able to answer an early one with a Swords to Plowshares effect. If they are running several Fetchland effects and you are playing first, you might consider boarding in some Suppression Fields (which stops Sensei’s Divining Top as well).

Versus Trinisphere Decks
The only thing that matters in the Trinisphere mirror is Crucible of Worlds, as it is the only source of card advantage. If you are able to stick a Cruicble of Worlds while stopping theirs, you should win. You should count your Powder Keg to three, so you are always able to kill their Crucible and follow up with yours. If you stick a Crucible, the next play you are looking for is playing a Chalice of the Void for three.

If one of the players is running Exalted Angels or other early big threats, the matchup is probably in that player’s favor. If you expect to be paired in lots of mirror matches, you might consider running some Exalted Angels and Oblivion Rings in the sideboard.

+2 Powder Keg
+2 Ethersworn Canonist
-4 Trinisphere

Versus “The Rest”
Unfortunately, your matchup against strategies that don’t revolve around the Big Four Artifacts above can be pretty bad. You are able to win them with a turn 1 Trinisphere or other sick draw, but usually they are not running a low enough curve, or they are running cards like Llanowar Elves, which are really good against you. I was able to pull off some matches off those style of decks, but you can expect to be a dog. If you expect most players not to run one of the above strategies at the Grand Prix, you definitely shouldn’t run this deck.

Overall, the deck is a very good choice if you don’t feel comfortable with the format, or if you don’t have a lot of time for testing. I’ve done well when running the deck before I knew much about the format, and I would make the same choice again if I were in the same boat.

I myself probably won’t run the deck at Grand Prix: Chicago, because I think I’ve learned a lot about the format through the previous tournaments I’ve played. If you don’t play a lot of Legacy, or you expect to face a lot of Sensei’s Divining Top, Trinisphere and Lion’s Eye Diamond strategies, this deck is definitely the right choice.

I appreciated all the feedback in the forums last week, and I am sorry that I couldn’t take the time answering, as I am very busy preparing for Kyoto. Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading.

Manuel B