Success is a double-edged sword. In any aspect of life, success will make you hungry for more and a lack thereof will leave you feeling hollow. One
failure, one misstep, and it can push you into a downward spiral. Every weekend, every tournament, I die, and then am reborn for the next. The emotional
swings leave me ragged time and time again, until I fall into a sweet sleep, swallowed in blankets and familiar faces.
There is nothing in this world like sleeping in your own bed, and living a lifestyle that continually has you on the road, week after week, can be taxing.
But absence makes the heart grow fonder, so they say, and being away from home makes my bed all the more comfortable, so I say. And this past weekend was
One loss led to another. One tragedy after another until all was lost, and I was at my wit’s end. Rabble Red had forsaken me.
Well, possibly that, or possibly the fact that people had caught up on how to beat it after a few weeks of it crushing everyone. To be fair, I did play
against Anger of the Gods or Drown in Sorrow every round of the Standard Open this past weekend. Suffice it to say that I did not do well against cheap
sweepers with my army of small creatures.
The coolest part about Rabble Red, and aggressive decks in general, is that they are great when people aren’t prepared for them. When everyone has their
sights set on beating Black, Blue, and U/W Control decks, Rabble Red and its kin are great. But when Rabble Red is deemed the best performing deck at a Pro
Tour, then follows that result up with multiple wins and solid finishes at tournaments for the next two weeks, people change their tune.
So there I was, 2-3 in the Standard Open and feeling miserable. I decided that I was done playing the deck for a number of reasons, but mostly because it
only seems like a good choice when no one is trying to beat it. Once people put a magnifying glass on the deck, it gets much worse as a result. Don’t get
me wrong, I still think the deck is awesome, and I had a ton of fun playing with it over the last few weeks, but it is not what I want to be playing in the
Invitational this weekend.
So for the next few hours, I put my sights on Legacy.
Asking the Right Questions
For months I’ve been on a Sneak and Show kick in Legacy. It felt like the most consistent combo deck, though probably not the most powerful. Some draws
were unbeatable, but I think that can be true for a lot of decks in Legacy. For months, I’ve thought it smart to be the one asking the questions instead of
the guy who tried to have all the answers. Lately, I’ve come to doubt this logic.
In Legacy, there are generally two types of decks:
1) Proactive Unfair Decks
These decks all do pretty much the same thing. They present a threat to the opponent and force them to have the right answer at the right time. While these
decks vary wildly on how they present their threats, they are all in the business of doing something broken, threatening to roll the opponent if they don’t
have Force of Will, graveyard hate, etc. But if the opponent has the right answers, these decks tend to fold.
That isn’t to say that these proactive combo decks are one-trick ponies. In fact, my favorite style of combo deck is one that can attack from multiple
angles. Unfortunately, Delver decks tend to prey on these kinds of decks, making them relatively poor choices in a field full of Delver. Daze, Spell
Pierce, and Force of Will are all powerful effects when backed by a significant threat that costs only one mana.
The trick to winning with this style of deck in Legacy is asking the right questions. When you know how your opponent is going to try to beat you, finding
a way to punish them on a different axis is important. Show and Tell was attacking at one of those angles for months as people weren’t really trying to
beat it. There were fewer copies of Karakas, Oblivion Ring, Humility, Thoughtseize, and way more people just relying on Force of Will. And honestly, one
Force of Will is rarely enough to stop it.
As the Legacy metagame evolved, Sneak and Show got much worse as people figured out how to beat it. An extra copy of Pithing Needle here, and another Red
Elemental Blast there, and even the occasional Ensnaring Bridge meant winning games with Sneak and Show was no longer easy. And it isn’t like Sneak and
Show can really adapt. It does one thing, though it does that one thing very well. But sometimes, that isn’t enough.
And so if you’re going to play a combo deck, make sure the question you’re asking isn’t going to have an easy answer.
2) Reactive Fair Decks
These types of decks are always trying to find the right answer. Sometimes a deck will throw a problem at you that you can’t answer, and this will almost
always result in a loss. There are a wide range of combo decks in Legacy, and Force of Will isn’t always enough to win the fight. The types of decks in
this category are generally blue, containing Force of Will alongside one or two other types of disruption, whether that means Thoughtseize, Daze, or
The trick to winning a tournament is building your reactive deck to beat the combo decks as well as beating the other midrange decks. This is one of the
reasons why I like Esper Deathblade in the current metagame. Sure, you will fold to a nut-draw from a Delver deck, but who doesn’t? Stifle and Wasteland
are powerful cards that disrupt even those decks with a significantly high land count.
The downside to a deck like Esper Deathblade is that your manabase is rough. Trying to fit Council’s Judgment, Liliana of the Veil, Abrupt Decay,
and Jace into your deck isn’t easy. Even with access to so many dual lands, fetchlands, and Deathrite Shaman, you will have trouble casting your spells
sometimes. This problem can only be exacerbated by an opposing Wasteland.
Much like the combo decks in Legacy, the fair decks need to attack on multiple different fronts. Having Force of Will and other counterspells is great and
all, but something as simple as a Defense Grid can lock you out of the game if you don’t have a proactive way to handle their combo. Cards like Meddling
Mage, Ethersworn Canonist, Gaddock Teeg, Leyline of Sanctity, or even Karakas all give you game against the combo decks even if they are able to blank your
After playing with Sneak and Show, I learned a lot. I learned that being the person asking the questions isn’t always the best side to be on. Deathblade,
Delver, Shardless BUG, and Miracles are all fine fair decks that have their strengths and weaknesses, but they almost always have the tools to answer the
questions. Force of Will, Thoughtseize, Counterbalance, and access to a slew of awesome sideboard options allows them to fight against virtually anything.
For a long time, I thought that the answers just weren’t good enough, as Legacy usually has some radical stuff going on. I wanted to be proactive and
unfair so that I could punish those that were also proactive and unfair because I was more consistent. But after months and months without winning a
tournament, or even making the Top 4 of an Open, I realized that it was possible that I was asking the wrong questions.
Or, at the very least, I was asking the wrong questions to the fair decks.
So here I am, wondering if I should still be playing an unfair deck but just trying to attack the fair decks on a different level. Maybe Dredge is good, or
possibly some sort of big mana deck like Cloudpost or MUD, or maybe I’m just overthinking everything and should just play Deathblade again. After all, it
is the deck I’ve had the most success with in the last year, and I haven’t really played it in a while.
Time to get back to my roots.
Over the last few months, I’ve watched Brad Nelson play the deck a lot. He learned many things about the deck that I haven’t had a chance to learn since I
haven’t touched it since the Invitational in Las Vegas last year. True-Name Nemesis changed the game and significantly altered how the deck operates.
You’re much more reliant on Stoneforge Mystic and True-Name Nemesis than you used to be, but this also means you have more blue cards in your deck to make
Force of Will more effective.
At one point, I was playing fourteen blue cards, and that was only after Gerry showed me that I was only playing twelve. Hilariously enough, I added a
single Ponder and a Vendilion Clique, and that somehow became the new normal. Regardless, True-Name Nemesis gives you a weapon that you’ve never had
before. While it’s a creature that can hold equipment that will never die and can’t be blocked, it is fairly poor against combo decks. But against
the fair decks, you need your Umezawa’s Jitte to connect and gain counters sometimes.
But the downside to all of this is that your opponents who are playing fair decks can also have access to this card. Traditional removal doesn’t kill it,
meaning you will need to have Liliana of the Veil, Diabolic Edict, or Council’s Judgment to deal with it. There are many sideboard options that also take
care of the menace, but Game 1 is hugely important, and having catch-all answers that are great in other matchups is a necessity.
But I absolutely hated True-Name Nemesis for a long time. I loved the days where I could play Dark Confidant, drawing tons of cards because my opponent was
forced to burn their removal spell on Stoneforge Mystic. I loved the days when Jace, the Mind Sculptor was a proactive answer to an opposing Jace, the Mind
Sculptor. But times have changed along with the rules, and I had to adapt accordingly.
I don’t think Jace, the Mind Sculptor is all that good in Legacy. Miracles certainly wants to play it, but I don’t think many other decks do. It isn’t
great against Delver or most combo decks because it is very slow, but it is one of the best cards you can have when your opponent is hitting you with
discard effects and your games keep coming to a grinding halt after you trade all of your resources. I had a lot of conversations on Saturday about
Deathblade with numerous people, many of whom play Deathblade on a regular basis. After all, I had five or so hours of downtime after doing so poorly in
the Standard event. Here were my thoughts.
–True-Name Nemesis is a trap. He is a creature you must be reliant upon to win games, but that is pretty similar to wanting to play Geist of Saint Traft in
the maindeck. It can give you free wins that would normally be difficult to grind out but is not overly necessary. The only times I want True-Name Nemesis
is when my opponent has one that I can’t kill or my opponent has a million ways to block my creatures, a la Elves or Goblins.
–Jace, the Mind Sculptor is probably unnecessary in the maindeck, though having access to a single copy is probably fine given you have Brainstorm and
Ponder to dig for it. It can be a tempo play, bouncing certain creatures, but I don’t think it is better than Liliana of the Veil in most spots. Being more
expensive than Liliana is certainly an issue, but having a mixture gives the deck versatility, which I like.
–Snapcaster Mage is always a card I want to draw, so long as I have enough cheap spells that make it strong. Spell Pierce and Snapcaster Mage are not great
together, but being able to rebuy Swords to Plowshares or Thoughtseize in various matchups is fantastic. I don’t know the correct number, but I was
relatively happy with two copies.
-The sideboard options are numerous, but I don’t actually know what I really want from it. Graveyard hate is probably necessary, as Deathrite Shaman isn’t
always enough. Dredge and Reanimator are powerful strategies that benefit from a lack of graveyard removal in the format, and I find that many people at
the Invitational want to stay away from graveyard hate because there aren’t that many people who want to play those strategies. But with the Top 8 of the
Invitational being a full five game match, I would much rather have access to graveyard interaction than not if I want to win the tournament.
At the Legacy Open in Washington, D.C. this past weekend, I opted to play zero hate cards for graveyard decks, and I didn’t face one in the entire
tournament. However, I was quite scared going into the Top 8, as there were two copies of Dredge! Luckily for me, they both lost in the quarterfinals, but
I would have likely lost to either if I had to play against them. Even having something like Relic of Progenitus can be a powerful effect against more than
just Dredge or Reanimator and would have come in handy against my RUG Delver opponent in the semifinals. Keeping Tarmogoyf and Nimble Mongoose in check
buys you a lot of time to find hard answers to them, and it even draws a card to boot. Alongside Deathrite Shaman, Relic of Progenitus neuters two of their
But the tournament didn’t start off well for me. I knew I’d be waiting out the full tournament for Gerry Thompson to finish commentary, as he was riding
with me back to Roanoke, so my goal was (obviously) to win the tournament. Awkwardly, I lost my first round of the day to Veteran Explorer + Birthing Pod,
and I began to get down on myself and my deck choice. That matchup was not one where Sneak and Show would have had too many problems, and I felt stupid for
switching decks yet again. And after my poor performance in the Standard Open, I was in a bad mindset. I remember telling my wife Kali, “Now I’m just going
to 0-2 drop and have to wait around for twelve hours.” Her response was simple and one I’ve heard before. “Well, just win the rest of them!”
Still shaken from the loss and tilting off pretty badly, I went outside for a while and walked around the block. I came back feeling a little better but
still not looking forward to what felt like the inevitable second loss. But round after round, I’d be the one taking the match slip to the scorekeeper’s
desk. I’d be the one swinging for lethal, drawing the right sideboard card at the right time, or just having the better draw. I’d be the one winning. And
suddenly, I was playing for Top 8 in the final round of the Open, on camera, against Seth Manfield.
And I won.
And just like that I was into the Top 8, playing for another Legacy Open trophy with Deathblade. Perhaps coming back to the deck I had abandoned so long
ago wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I ultimately lost to Jadine Klomparens in the semifinals, but I’m assuming that I probably made a mistake somewhere.
Not drawing True-Name Nemesis against her Tarmogoyf and friends certainly didn’t help, but it is what it is. We all lose to Delver sometimes.
After playing with Deathblade again, I liked a lot of my changes but there honestly weren’t very many. The ideal Deathblade deck exists, but I probably
won’t find the exact list anytime soon. And that’s the nature of the beast that is Legacy. Every tournament you end up facing something that you could not
have possibly prepared for, and that person will beat you. But those decks are often high-variance and fairly easy to poke holes in.
One thing I continually tell people about Deathblade is that it is not possible to “hate out.” There is no inherent weakness. Whether or not I beat your
deck is mostly dependent on whether or not I want to beat it, and that is certainly a place I would like to be in a Legacy tournament. I will probably do
some more tinkering with the deck in the next few days before the Invitational, but here is a close look at where I want to be going into the tournament.
The sideboard felt a little off, but I mostly wanted to try out some new stuff. I liked the Sword of Feast and Famine, as it let me keep in all of my
Stoneforge Mystics against combo decks and presented them with a pretty firm clock while also being disruptive, but I’m not sure it was entirely necessary.
The Supreme Verdict and Path to Exile felt lackluster, but Abrupt Decay overperformed against Delver and Miracles. The rest of the deck felt spot on, but I
think cutting one copy of Spell Pierce for another copy of Ponder makes Snapcaster Mage better and allows me to keep a much wider range of hands.
The thing about Legacy that I love the most is how complex it can be. Sometimes it feels like you have ten different decisions to make just because you
have a Brainstorm in hand. When do you cast it? What land do you tap to play it? What do you put back? These are just some of the decisions that come with
playing a card like Brainstorm. This often leads to games that you only lost because you made a mistake. When I can look back and see where I messed up,
and know that’s a game I could have won, it helps me learn something about the deck and myself as a player.
I often joke about how Legacy feels like a puzzle with too many pieces to sort through. Every deck and every match has so many variables that you often get
caught up in the minutia. Over the last few years, Legacy has become my favorite format, and I have only heard similar things from most of the people who
play on the Open Series circuit. If you haven’t given it a try yet, I highly recommend it. There is a steep learning curve but finding your bearings makes
it all worth it.