Switching It Up

Get some inspiration for SCG Legacy Open: Oakland as Carsten tells you about taking a break from Storm and the decks he’s going to explore in the meantime.

A lot has been written about the benefits of sticking with a particular deck in Legacy. Because there is no rotation, you get to learn it inside and out. Because of the power level of the format as a whole, decks only rarely become invalidated, meaning your increased skill with your deck of choice is likely to matter in the years to come. Because the format is as skill intensive as it is, making better choices is more likely to lead you to success than having the perfect list for what you perceive the current metagame to be, especially as said metagame changes relatively slowly due to the cost of getting a whole new deck. All of these are true.

And yet I’m planning to do a little deck hopping in the weeks to come courtesy of playing for a long time and the great community lending spirit here in Berlin. The reason why I’m planning to do so and the decks I plan to visit are what I’m going to talk about today. Most of the decks I’ll be talking about are established successful archetypes, but one is a brew (well, disappeared classic) I’m itching to try out. If you’re interested in some exploration, feel free to pick any or all of them and give them a whirl. And if you want to enlighten me about any particular deck I should be giving a try or have suggestions concerning the exact lists to follow, feel free to do so in the comments. Any shared information is definitely appreciated!

The Why

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve surely realized that I consider Ad Nauseam Tendrils as one of if not the best deck in the format. I’m also reasonably experienced with it, a big edge with a deck as flexible and complex as Past in Flames Storm. So why would I stop playing it, especially now that True-Name Nemesis gives me additional incentive to be playing a combo deck?

Well, if you’re actually a regular reader, you might also have noted that my success with ANT hasn’t been the greatest lately. I haven’t been able to focus as well as I used to, and my brain—which actually does most of the work of playing for me since it’s much more intelligent than my conscious self—has had trouble feeding me the correct lines to take and seeing the perfect route to storming out with what I and my opponent have in hand. I was trying to figure out why when it hit me—I’m not enjoying the deck’s brokenness as much as I used to. I still think the deck is fun and addictive to play, yet I also feel like my subconscious is telling me it has had enough of doing that much math all the time. In short, my brain is getting bored of Storming, and if I want to do well, I need to give it a break.

Since that revelation, I’ve played in one Legacy and one Vintage tournament (more on that some other time), with neither deck sporting Tendrils of Agony anywhere in the 75—and lo and behold, the thinking machine ticked much more smoothly. I guess it really was time for a change! Definitely a valuable experience I’ll remember if I find myself not doing as well as I feel my deck should allow me to in the future.

Add to that the fact that everybody in my local metagame has pegged me for Storm as soon as they see the pairings and mulligans accordingly and the amount of Storm hate seeing play here right now (courtesy of me "recruiting" between three and five new Storm mages just here in Berlin during the last six months) and switching it up seems to be exactly the order of the day.

The Old Standby

Alright, so no Storming for me in the near future. What else would I want to be doing then? Clearly the first thing that sprang to mind was my old standby, hard control, which clearly means U/W Miracles in Legacy. This is what I brought to our last small weekly event to try out:

A couple of comments on the build. First and foremost, the Future Sight and Misdirection in the sideboard should have been Leyline of Sanctity, but I didn’t have any handy. As they’re mainly meant to help with discard-heavy midrange decks, I decided to try out a draw engine that’s hard to deal with to tutor for and something to punish Abrupt Decay and Hymn to Tourach instead. Neither came up in the four rounds I played so I can’t say anything definitive, but I’d still go with Leylines when available. Other than that a couple of things stick out:

Tithe: This is my 23rd mana source but might be better of just being a land. It can be clunky at times while providing sweet value at others. I think the consistency of more lands might just be better here at the moment, though, seeing how much combo and Dazes are running around. Once Tithe goes, you can probably also cut the fourth Tundra for a land of your liking.

The full four Counterbalances: The Counter-Top lock is incredible right now, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t run the full set. Abrupt Decay is the common argument against Counterbalance, but drawing more Counterbalances is actually a pretty solid answer to having one blown up.

Two Ponders in a 61-card deck: The common reaction here would be to cut a cantrip to make it a nice smooth sixty. I agree with the sentiment—I’ll be looking for something to cut for sure—but I definitely won’t be cutting Ponder to do so. I’ve tried that in the past and experienced significant trouble finding a Top from time to time, something that has very rarely happened to me in the Ponder build. Top supercharges this deck to a point that including cards that make finding it easier definitely worth it. The other option would be to run Enlightened Tutor, but using that to grab a Top is a lot like mulling to five (one card spent on the Tutor, the other on Top that’s sitting in play not changing the game state).

Full sets of Terminus and Swords to Plowshares as well as a Moat and three Entreat the Angels: I’m a firm believer in biasing your control deck towards certain matchups in Legacy. Getting a control deck to be good against both combo and tempo/midrange in this format is almost impossible to do. You usually end up being mediocre against both of them instead.

As a result, I much prefer having an outside shot against some of the metagame (combo in this case, largely by missing an early Counterbalance lock) and soundly beating the other half in an attempt to straddle the line. That explains the insane number of removal spells. As for the specific configuration, Terminus is the reason this deck is as good as it is and benefits more from being a four-of than most other cards since you can’t just keep it in hand ready to use. Finding a Terminus exactly when you need it is much easier with the full set. Moat, on the other hand, is a total beating right now and actually probably your best card against any Stoneforge Mystic / True-Name Nemesis deck. They pretty much can’t beat it with Lingering Souls, and neither can a lot of other decks. I actually contemplated running a second!

Finally, three Entreat the Angels. I know a lot of people out there only run two, but I’m closer to running four than two by now. The card gives you an easy way to trump almost everything, flips for three for Counterbalance (Liliana of the Veil and Show and Tell), and is just generally the most unfair thing this deck can do.

The nice side effect of running a heavy anti-creature configuration maindeck is that you’re much more likely two win two games in the matchups that tend to go long (decks you grind down with incessant removal) while expecting to go the full three against combo (your pre-board deck generally loses to combo rather rapidly or actually manages to Counterbalance lock them, meaning you have enough time for the full three games).

As for the sideboard, with all the specific silver bullets you gain access to, Enlightened Tutor suddenly becomes quite valuable. The mentioned Leyline of Sanctity (which I really should have access to) allows you to Entreat the Angels against midrange decks pretty much at your leisure, and Rest in Peace deals with the yard and Oblivion Ring. Humility, Pithing Needle, and Ethersworn Canonist are situationally ideal tools against Show and Tell decks—how fitting that we’re planning to tutor for them. The cheap counters and Vendilion Clique buy you the time to actually do so.

In a way, this is actually a transformative sideboard. Against most creature-based decks (those without Jace), you essentially turn into Mono-White Control deck splashing for library manipulation, Jace, and Counterbalance by taking out all your counterspells for random removal, applicable bullets, and tutors. Against combo, you turn into a Mono-Blue Control deck with a couple of white silver bullets to lock them out of the game. So far this setup feels very strong, though I’d be happy to hear opinions from players with more current Miracles experience.

Flavor Of The Month

As far as more aggressive strategies are concerned, I want to try out Owen Turtenwald Grand Prix Washington DC-winning U/W/R Delver list soon:

Owen’s list is one of the few lists I’ve looked at where I don’t instantly experience "tweak itch." With most decks I see that did well somewhere, I instantly feel like there are one or two cards that don’t make sense or are missing so I want to make adjustments. Owen’s deck, on the other hand, is as streamlined and straightforward as it gets, and I really enjoy the way it looks. It knows exactly what it wants to do and fully commits to that plan both maindeck and sideboard. The only thing I’ve contemplated is adding a Sword of Fire and Ice somewhere just in case the metagame becomes as full of True-Name Nemesis as I expect it to.

By cutting Stifle from U/W/R Delver, Owen embraces the fact that his curve is higher and he simply isn’t as good a tempo deck as RUG Delver. So instead of doing the same thing they do just a little bit worse, he fully commits to his stronger midgame as delivered by Stoneforge Mystic and True-Name Nemesis by using Delver like the old Standard deck did—a way to mise games because your deck is full of instants and disruption anyway.

The Tempo Deck Nobody Plays

Another established deck sitting in my in tray is BUG Delver:

Dan is the grandfather and master of the BUG Delver archetype, so his list seems like a solid starting point, though I actually like Bob’s list better on first sight between the maindeck Liliana of the Veil and sideboard Stifles.

I’m very tempted to just cut the Tarmogoyfs for True-Name Nemesis, though, at least for trial reasons (I assume you will usually either have a Deathrite Shaman or prefer Hymn to Tourach to Goofy on turn 2 anyway). Twenty lands seems fine to support a slightly more expensive threat base in a deck that doesn’t plan to keep mana open for countermagic anyway, every threat having evasion sounds solid, and the extra blue cards for Force of Will are much appreciated against combo decks.

As to the reasons why I want to try this, Tombstalker is actually a lot more absurd than people give it credit for, and Hymn to Tourach is just a ridiculous Magic card. The deck is also very underplayed compared to its U/W/R and RUG Delver counterparts and should have the best combo matchup of them all between Hymn, countermagic, and Deathrite Shaman. I willlikely force a couple of additional Flusterstorms or Thoughtseizes into the sideboard just to drive that home, though, at least if I don’t play Bob’s Stifles.

Bitten By A Different BUG

Finally, as mentioned last week, I feel that Pernicious Deed and Innocent Blood are so well positioned right now that they pull me towards a creatureless BUG Control shell. Maybe something along these lines:

The idea here is to just cast removal spell after removal spell (almost all of which can deal with True-Name Nemesis) against creature-based decks until you can establish either Liliana of the Veil; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; or Wasteland plus Life from the Loam to take full control of the game. Life from the Loam fills a multitude of roles here since it also serves as the deck’s intermediate draw engine until the planeswalkers can come online. It makes sure you get to hit your land drops—the main purpose of early-game card drawing in control decks—and transforms into an absurd card-advantage engine with Brainstorm, Jace or Lili later.

Everything else about the deck should be easy to grasp since there aren’t any cute shenanigans. Sensei’s Divining Top is additional library manipulation and allows you to keep countermagic ready even with Liliana out, while the sideboard allows you to transform all those crappy removal spells into more disruption when necessary (or do the opposite against your target audience). Surgical Extraction is the graveyard hate of choice because it works oh so well with the discard spells even against combo decks that usually want to eschew the graveyard and is basically the best (as in cheapest) thing against Reanimator.

The deck might want some other ways to deal with planeswalkers (Creeping Tar Pit alone might not be good enough) and four counterspells might prove too much just for curve purposes, but for now this looks like something that holds quite a lot of promise and should allow me to draw a satisfying amount of cards every game.

Doing Something Different

Well, there you have it! My projects for the next couple of events. Even with just one Legacy event with something different under my belt, I can already feel the invigorating effect of experiencing long ignored pleasures. If your game is suffering and you don’t know why, maybe you should try switching it up just for the sake of it too.

For those afraid of never getting combo content again, don’t worry. Storm is still incredibly powerful, so I’m sure once my mental batteries have recharged I’ll tire of playing such fair Magic where I have to care about creatures and once more embrace the power of Dark Ritual. For now, though, I’ll let others champion the truly broken and do unfair things under the guise of being in for a nice and friendly normal game of Magic instead. I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you have any suggestions or comments concerning the decks or me leaving combo behind for the moment, feel free to share them in the comments. I can use all the expertise available now that I can’t just ignore my opponent’s board anymore after about a year of just killing them instead of caring.

Until next time, do something different!