Running The Labyrinth In Legacy

Take a look at what Todd’s been brewing up in Legacy with new Born of the Gods card Spirit of the Labyrinth and be sure to leave your thoughts for him in the comments!

Legacy is a complex and ever-changing animal. That’s the reason why I love it so much. Regardless of your weapon of choice, you can win a tournament as long as you build your deck correctly. Building your deck correctly is obviously insanely difficult due to the large card pool at your disposal, but every color has the tools necessary to beat any deck they so choose. Figuring out which decks you want to beat is one of the most difficult aspects of the format.

Whether you expect to play against Delver, combo, control, or midrange, you need answers to very specific cards, but your answers have to be diverse enough so that they maintain their usefulness in a number of matchups. With so many threats on the table, figuring out which battles to fight and which battles to concede will be the deciding point of how your tournament goes.

For some people, Legacy comes easy. We’ve been playing the game for so long that no one needs to tell us that Engineered Plague is a great sideboard card against Elves. We don’t have to search Gatherer for every single card ever printed that can fight Show and Tell. We also have been playing long enough to assess certain situations or matchups based on past experiences much more quickly.

If you’re new to Legacy, a lot of these attributes may come a bit more slowly. With so many viable decks, cards, and interactions, keeping track of every single thing in a game is outrageously difficult. Even I’ll admit that some situations I’m put in are definitely winnable, but finding that route to victory isn’t always an easy task. There are times when I Thoughtseize or Gitaxian Probe my opponent, know there is probably a way I can win, but just can’t figure it out in time.

I was talking to a friend of mine this past weekend at SCG Open Series: Baltimore who only started playing Magic in the last few years and even more recently became interested in Legacy. He had been playing Jund for the last few weeks and was lamenting that True-Name Nemesis was a major issue. Even with Liliana of the Veil, it just wasn’t enough. With that in mind, I picked up his sideboard and began to scan through it.

"Why aren’t you playing Massacre?"

"What’s that do?"

At that moment I realized that there could be a reasonably large gap in card knowledge when it comes to Legacy. Many players just don’t know that certain cards exist because they haven’t had the luxury of digging through thousands of them to find that hidden gem. Magic is what I do. At this point it’s relatively ingrained in my everyday life so it’s quite hard to just "turn it off" when it comes to situations like this. If you tell me about a certain card or interaction you’re having trouble beating, I’ll try to help.

Seriously, just ask. I’m all ears.

Whenever I go to a tournament, people come up and ask me to take a look at a new deck they’re working on. They tend to have great starting points and good ideas but just need a little bit of help fine tuning their strategy. I don’t overlook any strategy and just give them my honest opinion about what cards might help facilitate their plan or even just possible suggestions on how to improve their mana base.

These people are often very timid and afraid to ask me for this kind of advice, but I’m here to tell you that I don’t mind at all. To me, every deck is like a puzzle that I’m trying to figure out. Hell, the crazier the deck, the more I have to think about how to make it better. There will be times when I’m a little too busy, but there is generally a ton of downtime at events. I’m more than willing to help.

I pride myself on being able to tune existing decks quite well, though I occasionally lack in imagination when it comes to brewing new powerful archetypes. Whenever a new set comes along, I generally tend to wait for one of my friends to build something sweet, and I’ll do my best to turn it into a monster. I’m currently in a transitional state where I’m trying to come up with new ideas on a regular basis and throw them against the wall that is Brad Nelson. If he doesn’t think something is good, I’ll try to prove that it is good until the point where the idea flourishes. If that doesn’t happen, I usually wait until the results of the next major tournament come in and start to build existing archetypes with tweaks to attack the decks that are popular or consistently doing well.

Oftentimes this means playing the "best deck" while giving myself a slight edge in the mirror. Other times it involves changing a lot of the basic functionalities of an archetype in order to beat a popular deck that I’m normally weak against. A great example of the latter is how Andrew Shrout started playing Skylasher and Mistcutter Hydra in his G/W Aggro deck, an archetype that is traditionally weak to Mono-Blue Devotion.

In Legacy, this is much harder to do because changing one small part of a deck can change how the entire machine operates. This is compounded when that deck plays cards that act as tutor effects because cutting a tutor target can lead to games where you have zero answers to what your opponent is playing. Generally speaking, deckbuilding becomes much more advanced when you have more decisions to make, and a tutor of any kind gives you a multitude of decisions.

Over the last few weeks I worked on various Legacy brews containing Exploration since I was infatuated with the idea of playing a ton of lands when I saw Kennen Haas win the Legacy Open in Indianapolis with Jund Depths. On the drive up to Baltimore, I built different takes on the old "43 Lands" archetype in my head. Some of them featured Burning Wish since having access to a toolbox of sorts seems pretty sweet when your deck is relatively linear. Others were more focused on the Loam engine by using Gamble, much like the deck Kurt Speiss used to actually win the event, since the cards you will most likely be searching up don’t mind being discarded.

I think I may have come to a wall though. I’ve been switching decks nonstop over the last few months since I haven’t had much success with any archetype I’ve tried. There are so many powerful archetypes that it can be quite difficult (and time consuming) to try to beat them all. But with Born of the Gods coming out soon, I’ve had my eye on this little guy:

This card just screams out to be played in Legacy. Every single blue deck cringes at the thought of seeing this card in play alongside Mother of Runes. I mean, can you imagine playing a deck full of Ponders and Brainstorms and just being dead when this hits play? Sure, you can beat it. After all, it’s just a creature. But what if there are a lot of other powerful disruptive creatures surrounding it? What if you build your deck to fight every deck from varying angles to the point where they don’t really have a way out?

The biggest annoyance for any deck with Spirit of the Labyrinth is that Massacre exists, and a lot of people are playing them in their sideboards to beat True-Name Nemesis right now. If you play Spirit of the Labyrinth, there will be some splash damage, but that’s always to be expected when you play a creature-based deck. People play removal spells. Your threats aren’t always going to survive. So what do we do?

During my time as a writer for SCG, I’ve played with Maverick quite a bit. Knight of the Reliquary and I go way back. Probably not as far as Kibler, but still pretty far. There is just something special about casting Noble Hierarch into Knight of the Reliquary and using Wasteland every turn for the rest of the game. The fact that you can also just jam a singleton copy of Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage into the deck is pretty sweet, though probably not necessary.

I haven’t been able to put it down in writing until now, but here’s the Maverick list I’ll be testing out over the next few days in preparation for the Legacy Open in Nashville.

This is a rough start to what I hope becomes the deck with which I win the Legacy Open. As with any Legacy deck, it will take a lot of work and a lot of tuning. The numbers need to be hashed out since you can’t have too many tutor targets. With this archetype specifically, you need to keep your threat density high because having too many removal spells or Thoughtseizes could end up biting you when you play against a removal-heavy archetype.

I think that there are a few different shells where Spirit of the Labyrinth could find a home. Death and Taxes has been on everyone’s mind ever since Spirit of the Labyrinth was spoiled, dreaming of the blowout turn where you get to use Aether Vial to put it into play in response to the opponent’s Brainstorm. While Maverick isn’t nearly as flashy as Death and Taxes, I think it gets a lot of things right. You are a threat-heavy deck, but many of those threats are disruptive in different ways. With Green Sun’s Zenith, you get access to a lot of bullets that could dig you out of a jam or just a virtual eight copies of Knight of the Reliquary.

One problem you may come across with this version of the deck is the mana base. You don’t have that many sources of black mana for a turn 1 Thoughtseize, but it’s one of the few ways you can interact with a combo opponent if they’re trying to do something degenerate. Luckily we have a lot of disruptive cards if we ever make it to the second turn, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. This is one of the reasons for Mindbreak Trap in the sideboard even though we already have a ton of cards that are good against combo decks.

To be honest, I haven’t played Maverick at all since U/W/R Delver became a deck, so the fact that they have access to eight removal spells that cost one mana could be a real problem. However, if they don’t have it in their opening hand and you can stick a Mother of Runes, things could go very badly for them. When you start playing your two- and three-drops and can protect them, there isn’t a whole lot they can actually do.

The one problem this list has is that it can’t actually do anything against an opposing True-Name Nemesis. You could go as deep as to play Massacre yourself, but too much friendly fire in an attrition war is bad for business. Playing Massacre in this type of deck reminds me far too much of the people who used to sideboard Wrath of God in their Birds of Paradise decks. Yes, you can "get" them on occasion by sandbagging your entire horde of creatures, but if they have a counterspell or discard spell the turn before you want to cast your Massacre, you’ll be too far behind to actually catch up. Holy Light is an answer I came up with that seems reasonable, but it still doesn’t kill the vast majority of their creatures.

Another way to build this deck would be to include Stoneforge Mystic, which would give us access to Sword of Fire and Ice to help get past a True-Name Nemesis that blocks the path. I’ve tried out so many variations of Maverick in the past that I honestly don’t know if it would be good or not, but my previous testing pushed me further and further away from Stoneforge Mystic and focused on a much tighter game plan. Stoneforge Mystic is trying to do something entirely different than the rest of the deck because it doesn’t provide any real inevitability and doesn’t disrupt what your opponent is trying to do. Cards like Spirit of the Labyrinth and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are exactly what you want in this style of deck.

I think the reason why Death and Taxes plays Stoneforge Mystic is because it needs an actual finisher, and Stoneforge Mystic just so happens to be a pretty good one. Alongside Aether Vial, you don’t actually need that much mana to start putting pressure on your opponent with Stoneforge Mystic. In Maverick, we have Knight of the Reliquary, which gives us a toolbox against a variety of strategies while also acting as a huge threat that can potentially chain Wastelands together until the opponent has no more resources to work with. Alongside Thalia, this is exactly what I want to be doing, but the entire shell of Death and Taxes does seem appealing.

There will come a point in testing where I ask myself "is having access to these other colors actually worth it?" I honestly don’t know the answer to that question yet, but I’ll keep you updated. If I were to work on a Death and Taxes list, it would probably look a little something like this:

For reference, this list is based on Travis Cowley’s from the Legacy Open in Baltimore (which probably began somewhere else—you get the idea).

There isn’t a lot to say about this strategy that hasn’t already been said. I think that Spirit of the Labyrinth replaces Aven Mindcensor as the "screw you" card since Legacy is much more about Brainstorm than actual tutor effects. Mindcensor could still be good and is a consideration over Flickerwisp. I haven’t played much with the deck, but flashing in a Flickerwisp off Aether Vial to protect your creatures has to have some merit, right?

Or perhaps it’s just a holdover from the days where you played Mangara and no one has really thought of changing the creature base all that much. I do like the newer versions that play Serra Avenger in order to just fly over the top of True-Name Nemesis, and Flickerwisp definitely helps with that. But I think that Flickerwisp is probably just worse than Aven Mindcensor when you want every creature to mess with them nonstop. I’ll need more Death and Taxes aficionados like Thomas Enevoldsen and Michael Bonde to tell me why I’m wrong here.

While the two decks may look relatively similar, I can assure you that they play out much differently. Maverick likes to play a few creatures that disrupt the opponent and then start progressing their board until they’ve completely taken over the game. Meanwhile, Death and Taxes is a deck that likes to use Aether Vial to flash in all of its creatures while they use their lands to disrupt the opponent.

Rishadan Port and Wasteland are your primary ways to do this, but Rishadan Port is a unique land that can be quite frustrating to play against and is especially annoying alongside cards like Thalia. It’s not uncommon for Death and Taxes to have an opponent completely locked out of the game by turn 3, but that generally requires your opponent to miss a land drop or two. I can only imagine how impotent their draws will be when you stick a Spirit of the Labyrinth along with the rest of your disruption.

At the moment I don’t know which of these strategies is best or if either is even viable. Maverick has been "dead" for quite some time, and I don’t know if it has the tools to come back from such a long hiatus. I feel like Death and Taxes might be a much safer deck choice, but it has been changing a lot over the last six months in strange ways. The elimination of Mangara feels correct, but then why are we still playing three copies of Karakas? Is your Show and Tell matchup that bad? Additionally, as I was saying earlier, is Flickerwisp really a card you still want to be playing when you aren’t playing Mangara?

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to test much before Nashville since Born of the Gods won’t be on Magic Online until a few weeks after the tournament and that is where I do most of my testing. Like the release of any new set, finding people to play with is going to be a major goal, but I don’t really have the time to focus on Legacy all that much with Pro Tour Born of the Gods coming up so quickly. Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about Modern all that much until after the event, but that’s just how it is with basically everyone at every Pro Tour. Luckily, you’ll be flooded with Modern content following the Pro Tour in preparation for Grand Prix Richmond in March!

Well, that’s all for me this week. Next week I’ll be writing a theory piece that you may find interesting. I’ve been looking forward to working on it for months now, and with the Prerelease this weekend, I’ll have plenty of time to hammer it out. I hope you like it!