To Jace or Not to Jace?
-Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin
-Grand Prix Washington DC Champion Owen Turtenwald
Delvers & Stoneforge Mystics
I’m always very curious about which decks want to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor and how many they want to play in Legacy. I think as a default we think of Jace as a "control" card, but sometimes there is a question mark as to what "control" means in the format. Games are often so fast—with even the control side coming out quickly—that Legacy’s versions of control can seem not that controlling or at least not focused on control in the long term. U/W Control decks in the format can flip up legions of Angel tokens for one glorious turn in The Red Zone or combo kill with a single spare mana through a throwback to Alliances.
One divide in Legacy is the one between the U/W or Esper Stoneblade decks and, say, U/W Miracles. There is actually quite a bit of card overlap between the two strategies to the point that they sometimes seem to blend into one another. Yet there are substantial philosophical and gameplay differences between the two families of decks.
Almost by necessity we would think of Miracles as the "control" (and by subtraction Stoneblade as "the beatdown"), which kind of leads to a macro association of "Stoneblade" as a "Jace" deck. Consider the familiar strategy espoused by Grand Prix Washington DC Top 8 competitor DeShaun Baylock:
See what I mean?
Stoneforge Mystic . . . "Jace deck."
The mana in this strategy is even carefully crafted around Jace, the Mind Sculptor. When Tom Martell put a similar deck on the map with his Grand Prix win, he did so with "exactly the number of basic lands necessary to cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor" [under Blood Moon]. Baylock here is even more conservative, with not just two Islands and the Swamp but a second Plains where Martell played only the one.
Now, while Esper Stoneblade as a strategy is a familiar one, there are all kinds of interesting things going on here that many of us haven’t seen before.
There is the
lady Merfolk of the hour, True-Name Nemesis (more—much more—on that throughout), but there is also Baleful Strix. Largely associated with Shardless BUG (only?), Baleful Strix actually has lots of play for a deck like Esper Stoneblade. It is highly synergistic with all the things this deck wants to do. It is like Stoneforge Mystic a two-drop that can help you draw extra cards. It tussles in combat against the biggest Tarmogoyf and can murder almost any creature it can block. Baleful Strix flies, so like Squadron Hawk in ages past it makes for quite the slippery Swordsman. Really, you can’t complain about this innovation.
Blaylock chose not to play the Lingering Souls of the familiar Martell build or the Dark Confidants of the more aggressive ones; Baleful Strix is a bit of an odd splash seeing as you need B on the second turn, but black offers some utility in the fast format due to the utility of Thoughtseize.
(And Jace makes sense!)
But trumpeting from the not-Jace camp comes tournament winner (and probable format redefiner) Owen Turtenwald with his new take on U/W/R Delver. Where Jace, the Mind Sculptor seems like an obvious inclusion in most Stoneblade decks—and Owen’s Peach Garden Oath brother Reid Duke is jamming Stoneforge Mystics and Jaces into the traditionally non-blue Maverick—we have deck like this:
For that matter, no Geist of Saint Traft!
Now, Owen’s deck obviously owes quite a bit to some previous U/W/R Delver performers: the tight mana base (no basics), the four Wastelands, the eight-pack of onetime Standard-defining blue and white drops . . .
But perhaps most importantly the inclusion of True-Name Nemesis as an unstoppable Swordsman.
Between its Dazes, Force of Wills, and Spell Pierces, this deck can buy turns off of unfair combo decks. Its Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolts are unambiguously pedigreed (and inexpensive) point removal that are valuable in a variety of contexts. But for [other] fair decks, there is not much you would want more than True-Name Nemesis.
No one blocks it; it gets in with Umezawa’s Jitte basically every time. With perhaps a little more synergy than the many other performing True-Name Nemesis decks, playing alongside Lightning Bolt does a ton. Being able to shave a turn off while attacking with an unstoppable racer is quite the compelling combo.
Many of the cards in Owen’s deck and sideboard are pretty intuitive; in particular you see things like Rest in Peace that blunt Snapcaster Mage, neutralize Tarmogoyf, and wipe away whole decks. Why then do we not play all the Rest in Peaces? What’s up with a Grafdigger’s Cage?
Not only is Grafdigger’s Cage cheaper (which might come up), but it doesn’t just shut down the graveyard. Grafdigger’s Cage’s "other" restriction, shutting down direct access from libraries, was relevant in Owen’s win against friend Andrew Cuneo in the Top 8, who probably would have loved to explode out with a Natural Order or Green Sun’s Zenith.
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 4 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Fyndhorn Elves
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 2 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
The little green men continue to march to Legacy success since the recent upgrade to Gaea’s Cradle.
Elves is fast and redundant, explosive and genuinely powerful.
Andrew’s Top 8 deck is of course built on the hyper-redundant Reid Duke model, with double Craterhoof Behemoth at the top end. While Elves has always had ties to Storm, the choice to finish with Craterhoof Behemoth over cards like Grapeshot or Predator Dragon requires much less work (and continued velocity) to prove a successful combo kill.
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Knight of the Reliquary
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 3 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 True-Name Nemesis
Top 10 pro player and multiple Top 8 competitor Sam Black added another feather to his already illustrious cap this weekend with a great finish with teammate Reid Duke Bant deck. You may recall that Reid recently took down a Legacy Open with this style of Bant deck, essentially the traditional G/W Maverick deck splashing blue for Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Brainstorm.
The coming of Commander 2013 is seen here too, with some profound cuts made to the deck in order to accommodate the Maximum Number of copies of True-Name Nemesis.
Sorry Knight of the Reliquary!
Knight of the Reliquary—the slam-dunk four-of fatty of Legacy Maverick decks—is demoted to a two-of in the Reid/Sam Bant deck. Clearly the deck only wants so many three-drops, and True-Name Nemesis is the (especially offensive) three-drop of choice here.
Sorry Stoneforge Mystic!
Just a couple of weeks ago Reid Duke raised his eyebrow to years and years of Maverick modus operandi by fitting four copies of the mighty two-drop into his Bant list. Sam shaved a copy of Stoneforge Mystic to help accommodate True-Name Nemesis, which kind of chafes my imagination. I feel like one of the reasons that True-Name Nemesis is an offensive standout in this kind of a deck is because you can slap a Sword of Fire and Ice or Umezawa’s Jitte onto it and watch it go to town . . . Just want my looks at those cards.
Sorry Jace, the Mind Sculptor!
Though this deck continues to answer yes! Yes! YES! to [arguably] the greatest planeswalker of all time, the count has slipped to only one copy main here.
Wow . . .that certainly seems like quite a few cuts for only four three-drop creatures.
The Grand Prix version of the Bant deck packed four copies of Force of Will [main], promoting sideboard standout to maindeck and upping free permission substantially from just the previous iteration’s three Dazes.
Death and Taxes
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 3 Serra Avenger
- 2 Aven Mindcensor
- 4 Flickerwisp
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
What a surprise!
PT Champion Craig Wescoe in the elimination rounds . . . with a White Weenie deck!
Fans of the Death and Taxes strategy (or even newer devotees of [author name="Ari Lax"]Ari Lax’s[/author] recent win at the Legacy Championship a few weeks back) might be surprised at some of Craig’s decisions here, most notably the absence of Mangara of Corondor.
Lots of the cards in Death and Taxes create minor pocket combos with one another. You can do cute stuff like tap your Aether Vial at instant speed, warp in a Flickerwisp, and reset your Phyrexian Revoker. Or Flickerwisp your Stoneforge Mystic for another look. Or things that have nothing to do with Flickerwisp presumably.
But one of the cutest things you could combine with Flickerwisp (again in other versions) was Mangara of Corondor. You could activate Mangara and respond with Aether Vial + Flickerwisp to "save" Mangara (while it still exiled one of the opponent’s permanents). A legendary creature, Mangara played nicely with Karakas, and as a three-drop creature, it was effective with Aether Vial, freeing up your lands to tap down the opponent’s lands.
Instead, we see Serra Avenger in Wescoe’s deck. Serra Avenger never lived up to its initial hype in Standard but has always had a tidy corner to fight from, especially in formats with Aether Vial. The card has no drawback whatsoever after turn 3 and as a two-drop can give you a lot to do with your Vials.
While it does have some play as an offensive White Weenie deck, that is a bit of a low-powered Plan A for Legacy. But Death and Taxes has two other things going for it.
First of all, it is a pretty good mana-denial deck. Even without Mangara of Corondor (which given the right combination of cards can lock an opponent completely out of permanents), Death and Taxes can keep an opponent off his curve with Wasteland and Rishadan Port, and especially when stuck on low mana, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben will punish the opponent’s development. Ponders, Brainstorms, and the like don’t like Thalia one bit either, and low-land decks that need those cards to dig to mana at all? The White Weenie offense starts looking fast enough.
Secondly, Death and Taxes is an absurdly good anti-Sneak and Show deck. It has Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to slow Sneak and Show down and punish its absurd land count, plus drops every kind of trump for Sneak and Show’s usually powerful threats. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn? As long as you didn’t hard cast that, Karakas is going to keep it from attacking/annihilating. How about the deck’s namesake cheat? Phyrexian Revoker will keep a certain red enchantment from ever deploying a legendary fat man.
Sneak and Show
Preparing for Sneak and Show was probably a pretty good strategy going into a big Legacy event. Not long ago it was being touted as the hands-down best deck in the format, as well as the Weapon of Choice of many top players/Invitational competitors/master grinders/et cetera.
Sneak and Show is a terror offensively. It doesn’t play many lands but has Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors to post some surprising starts. Lotus Petal and City of Traitors can cast Show and Tell on the first turn; who is really going to beat a first-turn Emrakul, the Aeons Torn?
(Okay, I do suppose "Show"-ing a Karakas will be able to beat one.)
Of course Sneak Attack enabling an attacking Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Griselbrand is a quick route to a huge advantage as well. One strike from either will not necessarily kill an opponent but can potentially set them back to the point where winning is a remote possibility (annihilator) or give you fuel to draw a ton of cards, hopefully enough to put a game over the top and away (lifelink).
If there is a fault to this strategy it is probably just that it is known. Sneak and Show is very fast and capable of explosive deployment, but the predictability of its endgame cards does expose it to being targeted by decks with Knight of the Reliquary or other Karakas access (or in the case of Death and Taxes, tons and tons of relevant interaction).
Now, speaking of "interaction" . . . the boogeyman:
- 3 Ichorid
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 3 Golgari Thug
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 2 Griselbrand
"If you’re just going to throw dice, you might as well throw the ones with the biggest numbers."
-Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin
Dredge is on the shortlist of "most hated" strategies ever. The Legacy version is not particularly reviled, but that is largely because the Legacy format has other fast decks as well as access to many answers to a Dredge deck (many of which either have low opportunity costs like Knight of the Reliquary or cost no mana like Tormod’s Crypt or Surgical Extraction).
But if a Dredge deck is allowed to operate unfettered, there are few decks that can compete with its consistency, resilience, or nigh-invulnerability to mulligans.
You start by getting something into the graveyard. It can be as simple as going second and discarding a Golgari Grave-Troll instead of playing a land. You dredge. You get cards—many of them stamped "dredge"—into the graveyard. You flip over Ichorids and Narcomoebas. You have free attackers; better yet, you have free Cabal Therapy fodder. In fact, your Cabal Therapys themselves can be free in every way—Free access via graveyard flashback; no mana cost; oftentimes the sacrificed creature is an Ichorid (which was going to die anyway). In this way you can ensure the opponent will have a hard time presenting interaction with your plan and/or setting up to race you himself.
The Dredge deck can make flashy plays. For instance, you can theoretically play a Lion’s Eye Diamond, activate it for RRR on the first turn, discard your hand (including hopefully a Golgari Grave-Troll or two), and flashback a discarded Faithless Looting to get the party started. "Dredge for twelve" is a pretty classy way for this deck to take its first turn. I mean, you’re going to have to play a different kind of "traditional" game than everyone else in the room, but your already jazzed graveyard will give you some room to work.
While a consistent dredge-driven Ichorid attack can prove inevitable, the presence of Bridge from Below makes life—and undeath—so much easier. All your Ichorid deaths—whether from hapless opponents blocking the already damned and dying, Cabal Therapy sacrifices, or anything else—is going to help make 2/2 creatures. If you flip some Narcomoebas or in some other way get the fodder necessary for a free Dread Return, you’re going to get some creature return as well.
The big finish in this version is around Flame-Kin Zealot. Get Flame-Kin Zealot into your graveyard and sacrifice some bodies to Dread Return it to the battlefield. Hopefully you will profit to the tune of several 2/2 Zombies . . . all of which have haste thanks to the Flame-Kin Zealot. You can attack, possibly for lethal, on the spot; access to potentially lots of Cabal Therapys—and lots of sacrificial lambs—means that even on a non-successful run (i.e. the opponent survives your Flame-Kin Zealot attack) you can end a turn far in advance of your opponent’s position in the game.
Dredge and its cousins tend to do disproportionately well when opponents don’t’ pack a lot of specific sideboard cards. If everyone has Tormod’s Crypt and Grafdigger’s Cage, life (slash undeath) becomes much less exciting. But if they let you roll, it is pretty difficult for a deck like this can realistically lose to a hard-cast 3/1 creature.
Gerry Thompson may be dearly departed from weekly tournament participation, but his legacy lives on—especially here in Legacy.
Shardless BUG is a wondrous fair deck, the fairest one of all maybe. Shardless Agent—a bearer of card advantage—helps generate so much more card advantage from Baleful Strix, Hymn to Tourach, or especially Ancestral Vision. Other fair creature decks can be ground to powder by BUG. Two-for-one after two-for-one and the occasional three-for-one—some decks will simply never be able to deal with the curtain of one-for-ones that this deck can bring to bear, let alone its ability to generate a sustained advantage via planeswalkers.
Commander 2013 will probably be best known for True-Name Nemesis, but don’t miss McCluskie’s Toxic Deluge out of the sideboard. While a deck like this with multiple fountains of cardboard advantage can outpace most fair decks on a one-for-one basis, those that can generate an unbound volume of card advantage sometimes demand to be dealt with via sweepers. This is one that for three mana can eat an Emrakul.
In his article this week, former #1 Apprentice Joshua P. Ravitz once again expressed his love of Legacy as a format. One of the things that people most love about Legacy is its perceived openness; you can play a wide variety of different decks, and even though there are turn 2 kill decks, the breadth of the format means you will not always be playing against one. What is awesome to see given recent sets is that for a format with as many options as this one is that it can be moved. Moved and modified. More options and more interesting explorations are available . . . without devolving the entire format into one deck or even creating a metagame backlash. My bet is that Owen’s U/W/R deck puts up some Open Top 8s in the near term but will do so without upending everything and everyone else.