Terminus Is Bad (Just Kill Them With Temporal Mastery Instead!)

Legacy specialist Drew Levin is here to tell you that if you want to play miracle cards in the format, play Temporal Mastery and not Terminus. Find out what deck you should play at the SCG Legacy Open in Nashville this weekend!

I have a bit of a dirty secret to tell you guys about miracle cards. It’s kind of embarrassing and more than a little awkward, but you all deserve the truth.

Until this past weekend, I didn’t know how miracles worked.

I mean, I knew that if you drew the card as the first card of your turn, you could cast it. It says that right on the card.

I just didn’t know when I could cast it. You see, the keyword “miracle” sets up a trigger when you draw and reveal it. The trigger goes on the stack and you get priority. At that point, the miracle card is still in your hand. You can Brainstorm, you can activate a fetchland, and your opponent can cast Vendilion Clique before the trigger resolves. While the trigger is on the stack, the card has to stay revealed and separate from your hand continuously.

I didn’t know that you could activate a fetchland with miracle on the stack. I was under the impression that you had to have the mana to cast your miracle in play when you drew it. Given the nature of Legacy—specifically, how strongly Brainstorm incentivizes people away from activating fetchlands—I believed miracles to be much worse than they are. My mistake. I apologize. Part of my job is to be capable of evaluating cards with a complete understanding of how they work. I haven’t been doing that. Sorry.

That said, miracles still aren’t going to break Legacy and Brainstorm still isn’t going to get banned.

For the last few days, though, the only things I’ve heard said about miracles in Legacy has been how good they are and how broken a miracle-centric deck could be.

I have to wonder if those people watched the SCG Legacy Open in Orlando at all. In game 3 of the finals, someone put a 7/7 flying lifelink Yawgmoth’s Bargain into play on turn 2 on the play and lost very easily.

Legacy decks are not in the mood to mess around. The current crop of top decks all try to kill you as soon as possible. The best decks are those that kill quickly through disruption or those that have hyper-efficient, cheap answers to the first type of deck.

The enemies, for those of you who missed the coverage of the SCG Legacy Open in Orlando:

That’s right—three different Show and Tell decks and a Lion’s Eye Diamond deck. All four of these decks are capable of full on killing someone before they’ve played a second land. On the other side of the ring, we have the upstart challenger:

This looks like a pretty basic update on Carsten Kotter U/W Terminus deck that he wrote about on this very website. No Squadron Hawks, but the same basic U/W Control shell that Carsten has been touting for weeks.

I don’t have a huge problem with the deck in an objective sense. I have a huge problem with its inability to deal with game-winning enchantments.

For those of you who are relatively new to Legacy, Hive Mind saw its first bout of real success when U/W Stoneblade was at its most popular. This was back when Stoneblade played around a dozen counterspells—some mix of Missteps, Snares, Forces, Counterspells, and Dazes. At the end of the day, though, a four-turn clock starting on turn 3 just wasn’t fast enough to beat Hive Mind.

Sneak Attack is even faster and more resilient than Hive Mind. It has to care about its opponents’ life totals, but that’s a small price to pay for having so many live Show and Tells. Against a miracle-heavy Legacy deck, though, it’s going to be a huge favorite. Why? Sneak Attack.

Sneak Attack allows a combo deck that needs to attack to win to not care about creature hate. It can sit on its Sneak Attack, throw Emrakuls out there, and wait until one of them gets to attack. Alternatively, it can Sneak Griselbrand into play, draw fourteen cards, and Force of Will a Terminus.

The real problem with so many miracle-based control decks, then, is that the setup for miracles plus the actual miracles themselves leave you with too little room to fight truly degenerate strategies. Shawn French got to play ten counterspells, two Vendilion Cliques, and three Snapcaster Mages, but he’s also incapable of putting a real clock on an opponent packing Show and Tells and eleven counters of their own. So what can we do to fix this? Or are some problems simply too big to be fixed?

Let’s take another look at the French update on Kotter’s U/W Miracle deck:

I want to start by pointing out something that I absolutely love about this list: its basic-heavy mana base. It has seven basic lands including two basic Plains that let you cast Elspeth off of entire basic lands. It never needs to fetch a Tundra to cast its spells. In a world of Wastelands, that’s a big deal.

I could do with having more mana sources, though. Twenty lands isn’t where I want to be in a miracle deck. Sure, you have Ponder and Brainstorm and Sensei’s Divining Top, but you never want to miss a land drop until turn 5 at the earliest and you’re playing all those one-mana selection cards to find your miracles, not your lands. Adam Yurchick’s recent article on U/W Miracles in Legacy makes use of Chrome Mox, an addition that I can get behind.

One slot that I dislike in both Yurchick’s and French’s lists, though, is their inclusion of Counterbalance. This card is their proposed answer to the claim that they lack ways to interact with the degenerate strategies of Legacy. The problem, of course, is that Counterbalance does almost nothing against Dredge and Show and Tell decks. It comes down too late against Dredge and doesn’t flip enough three-mana cards against Show and Tell.

Beyond that, however, neither list plays enough two-drops or three-drops to make Counterbalance more than a one-sided Chalice of the Void at one. That’s definitely good enough against RUG Delver and definitely not good enough anywhere else. If you want to play them just for RUG Delver, I would recommend doing what Shawn French did and put them where they belong—in your sideboard.

On a more fundamental level, though, I have issues with even the “strong” cards in the deck. Terminus is supposed to be the headline card that makes you want to play this deck, right? But whenever I was watching French cast a one-mana Terminus, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much worse than a pure Wrath of God it was. Let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses for a second.

On the upside, Terminus at one mana dodges all of the soft countermagic that various decks play. It’s not getting Dazed or Spell Pierced, which is what you’re worried about when you cast a four-mana sweeper of any sort, whether it’s Wrath of God or Humility or Moat.

It also comes out at instant speed. Rout has truly aged well over the years.

It answers Nimble Mongoose in a Tundra deck, a characteristic to which almost no other blue or white removal spells can lay claim. Seriously, Nimble Mongoose is a huge problem for Tundra decks of all shapes and sizes.

That, unfortunately, is where the upsides end. The downsides? Just one, but it’s very severe.

Putting creatures on the bottom of their owner’s library is not the same as killing them in a format with Green Sun’s Zenith and decks with fetchlands and ten cantrips. Normally, when a U/W deck kills a creature (or three), the opposing deck’s threat density stays the same. Once you’ve drawn and played a creature, that’s it. Your creature is in play, then it will probably die, and then you don’t get to have it back again. Your deck has fewer and fewer creatures in it as the game goes on, leading you to flood out in the super-late game.

Terminus makes sure that RUG Delver is always Pondering to the full set of Nimble Mongooses and that G/W Maverick always has a Knight of the Reliquary to Green Sun’s Zenith for. That’s a problem. It’s mitigated by having multiple Elspeths to protect your Jace from 3/3 shroud creatures as he goes ultimate, but it’s still a problem. I don’t know how to solve it.

If I wanted to play miracles in Legacy, it would be to double up on my best turns. Part of that modus operandi would be to make my best turns really, really good. Why haven’t people used Temporal Mastery to streamline old school U/W Stoneblade yet?

This is the sort of deck I thought of when I saw Temporal Mastery. Not a RUG Delver deck that only wants to have two lands in play. Not a 20-land control deck that will use it as an Explore. I thought of a good ol’ midrange beatdown deck with four to six planeswalkers, a Sword of Feast and Famine, and the capacity to pack a lot of punch into one attack step.

U/W Stoneblade already had a fairly annoying problem where no one could agree on the last four to six slots. Some people wanted to play these removal spells and counters, some people wanted to play those, and so on. Temporal Mastery solves all of these problems by letting you focus on attacking your opponent to death while giving them as few turns as possible. Simple!

At the end of the day, though, U/W Stoneblade got obsoleted precisely because it didn’t do enough. It was the best deck at grinding people out, but sometimes people didn’t let you grind them out. They trumped you with Mother of Runes and a Knight of the Reliquary, or with Sylvan Library and Elspeth, or with Show and Tell into Hive Mind.

A big upside to this deck is that you have a proactive game plan against everyone. Game 1 you have more turn 2 Stoneforge Mystics than anyone else because of Ponder. You get to miracle cast Temporal Mastery for value because you have an attack step that you want to use every turn. You get to play four Geist of Saint Traft in this deck because it’s the biggest three-drop in the format when it gets to attack. Since our game 1 plan is “get ’em dead,” Geist is the right ghost for the job.

One thing you’ll notice about this list: there’s no more Spell Snare. It’s just gone. Why, you might ask? Well, let me know when you’ve thought of a two-mana card that this deck cares about. This is a way better Stoneforge Mystic deck than anything else out there; it can Plow and Sword through opposing Tarmogoyfs and Oozes just fine, and none of the degenerate strategies play anything that costs two anymore.

There’s also no more Wasteland in the deck. I wrote about including Wasteland in Stoneforge Mystic strategies at several points last year, but the fundamental question to ask yourself is this: “Are my land drops more important than my opponent’s land drops?” If yes, don’t play Wasteland. If no, play Wasteland. Since you want to hit your first five or six land drops, Wasteland is not good at all in this deck. If they open on Tropical Island and you Wasteland them, you’re immediately devaluing your Temporal Masteries. If there’s a Temporal Mastery second from the top of your deck, now you can’t cast it on your third turn. That’s a real cost.

You’ll note that Force of Will is also gone from the maindeck. As it turns out, Force of Will is very poorly positioned against Maverick and RUG Delver, both of which have relatively flat power levels. No one card in either deck is so powerful that it’s worth two cards, so Force of Will is naturally disadvantageous against them.

Esper Stoneblade is a similar story; Stoneblade mirrors are commonly grindy matchups, so having a Hymn to Tourach in your deck that only targets yourself is a recipe for disaster. Given the absence of any other counterspells in your maindeck, it will be very difficult to beat a fast Show and Tell hand with just a Force of Will, so you might as well just play Vendilion Cliques and hope to steal game 1 from the degenerate strategies.

That’s where the sideboard comes in. Instead of playing into all these grindy wars with decks that don’t exist anymore because they can’t ever beat a Show and Tell, your sideboard gives you eleven cards against Intuition decks and six cards against RUG Delver.

Your suite of flash fliers doubles against combo strategies, making it a risky move for them to break a fetchland let alone cast Intuition or Show and Tell. Against RUG Delver, you get to board in Spell Pierce and Path, both of which let you lower your curve and interact more on early turns.

Against Maverick, you board in the Sword, Gideon, and Paths. Hopefully, they can’t beat either your Sword of War and Peace or your Gideon Jura. Even if they can beat your sideboard trumps, hopefully those buy you enough time to set up a turn where they have no untapped creatures and you roll two Temporal Mastery off the top of your deck. That’s what I want to do with Temporal Mastery: set up sequences where my opponent dies. Value is nice, but winning is better.

If you’re more interested in figuring out which Show and Tell variant to play this weekend, let me answer your question for you: it’s Sneak Attack. Reuben Bresler asked for a breakdown of the Hive Mind vs. Dream Halls vs. Sneak Attack while Jacob Van Lunen and I were covering a Top 8 in Orlando that featured all three strategies. Here’s why I think it’s not close:

Moral of the story? If you want to play Show and Tell this weekend, I would recommend playing Sneak Attack. If you want to play Dredge this weekend, be prepared for the hate. Florida is known for its high population of Dredge players, so it’s not a huge surprise that Dredge won in Orlando. Given that this weekend’s tournament is south of the Mason-Dixon line, though, I’m expecting a lot of Savannahs to show up on Sunday. Be prepared to beat Mother of Runes, whatever you end up playing.

See you in Nashville!

Drew Levin

@drewlevin on Twitter