“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
Feeling a little lost when it comes to Legacy? You’re not the only one. Stop flailing around helplessly. Sit down for story time, and see if this
helps you sort things out.
Our story begins way back in May, 2010, when things were pretty normal, as far as Legacy goes. This was before we listened to the Bed Intruder song,
and when there was only one oil spill occurring in the Gulf, and people just fetched nonbasics like it was the most entertaining thing in the world.
Naive times, indeed…
Before Grand Prix: Columbus, there were a lot of factors that made Zoo look like it was the deck to beat, especially when Mystical Tutor was banned.
Mind you, Zoo was never (and has never) been the abstractly “best” deck in the format. It is a dead-ahead aggro deck that punishes poor draws, bad
mulligan decisions, and cutesy, inbred metagames. Zoo likes it when Counterbalance is busily trying to beat Merfolk and Combo, and when Counterbalance
is devoting too many sideboard cards to Reanimator â€” because then it becomes soft to a pure, heartless, consistent killing machine like Zoo, which is
already good against most other creature decks.
When the DCI started chugging Haterade and blasted Mystical Tutor out of the format, leaving us with a metagame where Zoo suddenly seemed like a
fantastic choice headed into the Grand Prix â€” perhaps even the deck to beat â€” things changed dramatically. Coming off two StarCityGames.com
Opens where it took first and second place, and putting up a deceptively good showing at the previous Grand Prix (even though that Grand Prix somehow
helped to get Mystical Tutor banned), Zoo had a huge target on its head.
Several things happened along the way here that are important to understand:
First, Zoo mirrors are awkward things where cards like Lightning Helix, Umezawa’s Jitte, Basilisk Collar, Sylvan Library, Kitchen Finks, and so on are
at a premium, as are cards like Bloodbraid Elf and Ranger of Eos… You know, the cards you generally don’t want to play when Zoo isn’t outrageously
popular, and cards often not good enough for Legacy. Zoo loses to “big” Zoo, but that deck is sort of… bad. Zoo starts to get inbred.
Second, when everyone else decides to beat the crap out of Zoo, they can do so pretty easily. They do this in different ways â€” adding Perish to
Merfolk, playing Counterbalance decks with Goyf and Firespout, playing Perish and Mogg War Marshal and Goblin Chieftain in Goblins.
Beyond tuning existing decks, people turned to alternative ways of cheating creatures into play that didn’t need the Graveyard or Mystical Tutor, so
that you have a bunch of bad Oath decks running around using Show and Tell and Sneak Attack and Hypergenesis and Shelldock Isle to beat up on Zoo by
slinging Progenitus and Emrakul into play as quickly as turn 2. (Especially vulnerable to this style of deck are inbred Zoo decks playing tons of
Sylvan Libraries and Stoneforge Mystic to beat other Zoo decks.)
At the Grand Prix, Zoo got pulverized and a bunch of crazy-looking Oath derivatives made the top 8. Emrakul fever was at its height, but it was really
the two consistent Blue decks from the pre-Emrakul version of the format that proved to have legs: Merfolk and Counterbalance. Go figure.
Well, actually, Merfolk is quite bad. Almost as bad as Mishra’s Workshop and Zoo. And Legacy Dredge is, uh, good.
It also turns out that Goblins, which was enjoying a comeback by being well-positioned against Reanimator, Counterbalance, and Merfolk before, is still
good against a metagame of Counterbalance, Merfolk, and bad Oath derivatives. Also good against these decks are resistant combo decks like Aluren and
Survival of the Fittest decks, on account of their ability to switch gears and attack on multiple fronts. Unfortunately, the best versions of these
decks have cards from this set called Portal: Three Billions, where all the good cards cost you all your other Magic cards, unless you’re able to run
the borrows by spamming the world via Facebook. I’m still sifting through “Do you have Imperial Recruiters?” messages from before Columbus, thank you
very much, and I know most of you people didn’t even attend the Grand Prix and can’t spell Aluren, let alone play the deck at a functional level. That
makes it even more enjoyable.
So it looked like Aluren was going to be the coolest “new” deck at the Grand Prix, until Caleb Durward channeled Roland Chang and got his Madness on,
with everybody’s favorite mispronounced Mythic, Vengevine. This version of Survival could go aggro against blue decks and win the long game via
Vengevine, but also could win quickly with Survival, and had protection with Force of Will, along with mana disruption for
those crazy bad-Oath derivatives.
Counterbalance and Merfolk are good, and Goblins and Survival are good against those decks to some extent, so Zoo needed to reboot itself a bit now
that opponents are choosing to “interact” again and stopped pretending that a 3/3 for G wasn’t good enough for this format. Or it can just devolve
into Burn, if that’s your thing (and it definitely seems to appeal to some people beyond the I-have-$10-and-want-to-play-Legacy-too crowd).
Hell yes, Storm combo! In theory, almost no one has hate for Storm decks anymore (because they’re all terrible without Mystical Tutor, because only
Mystical Tutor was broken in that deck). Musical interlude?
Hell yes, musical interlude!
DCI Invader song: They climbin’ in your format, and snatchin’ yo Tutors up, so you better hide your LEDs, hide your Rituals, hide your LEDs, hide your
Rituals, and hide your Petals cause they bannin’ errbody up in here.
We’ve ended up with this Legacy metagame where U/G/R/W CB-Top and Merfolk are the best decks, and Goblins and Madness Survival are top-tier foils to
those decks, and mid-range decks or tough-to-classify decks like Lands, Enchantress, Stax, and Aggro Loam are still more or less viable, and Dredge
still sucks, and Zoo got hated on so fast and so hard that the bad Oath-derivatives that lose to Merfolk and CB-Top are already fading.
So if I were going to play Legacy, what would I play? This is a story all about how my life got twist-turned upside down, and suddenly I’m making like
Max McCall, laughing off Nacatls at the Miserable Ball.
I played TES at the Legacy Challenge IV on 8/28 in Blue Bell, PA. Let’s review how this went down, and why.
The First Rule of Storm Club: Your Deck Name Must be an Acronym
Storm made the top 8 of Grand Prix: Columbus in the hands of Bryant Cook, and then made top 8 again at the Denver SCG Open. Generally people in the
Legacy community call this deck TES, but apparently the Ad Nauseam Tendrils moniker has stuck. Perhaps whoever is naming these decks enjoys sticking
it to the DCI as much as I do?
Reviewing the top 16 of the last two SCG Legacy Open tournaments, the field looks to be focusing on decks that are viable against Countertop while
still being resistant to Zoo. Almost no one is focusing on fighting combo at all, outside of the fact that Counterbalance decks and Merfolk decks are
naturally resistant to the strategy to some extent by nature of their design. Merfolk in particular is annoying, as TES does not run any basics at
all, making Wasteland much better and enhancing the power of Cursecatcher, Daze, and Spell Pierce.
So this article is about me playing TES after a week of testing, and then probably next week I will take a look at some decks that I like that are
vulnerable to TES, so that I can keep playing TES. Hey, at least I’m keeping it real.
Here’s the deck:
I changed two Chain of Vapors from Bob Yu’s deck (which is basically Bryant Cook Grand Prix deck with a Pyroblast moved main in place of a Silence)
into a Deathmark (to kill hate bears or buy time against Goyf) and an Innocent Blood (to kill Emrakul or something). I left Eye of Nowhere, despite
brainstorming for a non-zero amount of time and not coming up with any valid reason for why I would want that card.
If you’re not familiar with this deck, here’s how it works:
Cast a lot of spells. Nine would be a good number.
Then, play Tendrils. Tendrils copies itself and your opponent dies.
Got it? It’s really that easy.
Maybe that’s a little too brief. Okay, have a more expanded version:
This deck centers around Infernal Tutor and Burning Wish and their interaction with Lion’s Eye Diamond â€” much like Belcher, except this deck actually
can filter draws and nominally interact with opponents via Orim’s Chant and Duress. The unusual timing on Lion’s Eye Diamond means that you can play
Rituals and dump artifact mana into play, then cast Burning Wish or Infernal Tutor; you then activate Lion’s Eye Diamond with Wish or Tutor on the
stack. This makes you discard your hand, getting you Hellbent for Infernal Tutor, and in both cases leaving you with mana floating when your Wish or
Tutor resolve. So, you might do something like this:
Turn 1 — Land, Duress.
Ponder and Brainstorm help sculpt your draw, so you can race aggro decks like Zoo, or dig for protection against Blue decks. The sideboard is actually
quite flexible, allowing for wins via Empty the Warrens or looping with Ill-Gotten Gains. The spicy maindecked Empty the Warrens gives the deck a nice
way to race if you can only hit six mana early instead of the seven you need to Infernal Tutor into Ad Nauseam.
The fact that you have both Wish and Infernal Tutor lets you use Tutor to double-up on your best racing spells like Lion’s Eye Diamond or Dark
Ritual. You can then play Ritual and LED, Burning Wish for Ill-Gotten Gains to set up an LED loop similar to the old Iggy Pop decks. The idea there
is to dump mana into play, respond to Wish by breaking LED, grab your Ill-Gotten Gains, and then play Ill-Gotten Gains and replay two mana accelerants
and Infernal Tutor, using the Tutor to get Tendrils to win the game.
Basically, this deck isn’t quite as fast as Belcher, but it also isn’t as all-in, and it can be pretty complicated at times due to a wide range of
decision trees. It is a blast to play, and very powerful. I also know a lot of people didn’t believe me when I said it was already viable, and
likely to get better over time. Why?
I think Goblins is well-positioned against Merfolk and CB-Top, and it continues to be a solid and consistent performer at large events. I also believe
the Madness deck is deceptively good (and potentially even better than the builds we’ve seen so far), and likely to remain popular; even though that
deck has Force of Will, Wasteland, and Daze, it really isn’t designed to race TES. TES also crushes Lands and generally has an acceptable Countertop
matchup when opponents aren’t packing any dedicated hate cards, especially early in a tournament if they don’t know you’re playing TES.
Speaking of which, here’s some helpful tips: First, play Bloodstained Mire in your list. I actually had it as a four-of in my build but took them out
because I thought I was loaning out my Goblins deck. If you lead with Mire and pass, your opponent will probably put you on Goblins and may botch
their first turn. Another tip is to make sure to hide the fact that you’re using Storm by not showing a notebook or paper with B, R, and U repeating
everywhere, with scribbles and cross-outs all over it. Instead, “accidentally” reveal Thopter tokens when you take out your deck.
No matter what sort of trickery you use, Merfolk is a pain. Thankfully, the anti-Merfolk propaganda machine is picking up steam again despite the fact
that it won a Grand Prix and an SCG Open.
Here’s a brief report on my tournament from 8/28, when forty players showed up at Alternate Universe in Blue Bell to sling some wacky Legacy decks:
Round 1 — Win 2-1 vs. Stax (1-0).
Game 1, my opponent mulliganed to six, then played Plains, Mox Diamond discarding Flagstones, and passed. This clearly signals Stax, which means
things could get awkward for me very quickly. My options were either try to sculpt my draw, or go for it immediately and hope I can race with Empty
the Warrens. This was a weird spot to be in; my opponent had only three cards, and if he was banking on using Crucible of Worlds/Wasteland or
Trinisphere to slow up the game, I’d win with Empty if I went for it. On the other hand, if he has Ghostly Prison or Magus, I’m in big trouble.
I made fourteen goblins by playing my entire hand. As it turns out, he had neither, and I win.
Game 2, he plays Chalice for one, and despite Chalice making things a little awkward, I make twelve goblins as the game state is likely to get worse
the longer I wait. I’m not sure what he needed to draw, the mana source or the Magus â€” but the end result after the next draw step is Magus of the
Tabernacle says “hi” and all my goblins go away.
Game 1, I won the die roll, got attacked to sixteen, then won on turn 3 with Ad Nauseam.
Game 2, I lost the die roll, got attacked to fifteen, then won on turn 2 with Ad Nauseam.
Round 3 — Win 2-1 vs. Survival Opposition (2-1)
Opposition is one of my favorite cards of all time. If you knew your opponent was playing a base blue-green Survival deck with Oppositions, would you
think it was likely that Force of Will would be in that deck? I did.
Game 1, I made a whole bunch of goblins with Empty the Warrens. Fred played out a bunch of blockers by making a Deranged Hermit to try to stabilize.
I attacked him to seven and then did a mini-Tendrils to win.
Game 2, I kept a reasonable opening hand, but kept drawing Infernal Tutors, so I got this great idea to Brainstorm the second and third copies back
into my deck by using a fetchland. I then drew Infernal Tutor, and then another. Pro shuffler, right here.
While I was doing this, Fred was busy attacking me with Eternal Witness and Rofellos, both of which had Haste, as he had Survival active with Anger in
the Graveyard. He used Survival to find a Glen Elendra Archmage, so I had to play an Orim’s Chant on his upkeep to stop that from happening.
On my turn, I was at seven and had to go all-in before Archmage got online. I had no Rituals, just a bunch of Lotus Petals and Chrome Mox and a
million Infernal Tutors. I played Infernal Tutor to get another Lotus Petal, then imprinted another Infernal Tutor on a Chrome Mox, and went for a
Burning Wish. I could have made a small-size Empty the Warrens â€” but if I did that, I’d lose to Wonder or probably just get raced with Survival up and
running. So I went for the Diminishing Returns, with no mana floating (having used a Burning Wish and having imprinted an Infernal Tutor).
My Diminishing Returns hand didn’t have Tendrils or an obvious win, and my spell count was just short of lethal anyway, plus Empty the Warrens still
wasn’t good enough, so there was only one obvious play: Diminishing Returns again.
If you’re not familiar with Diminishing Returns, it doesn’t Exile itself, it just goes in a new graveyard, just like Timetwister. So I Wished for
Ill-Gotten Gains and replayed Diminishing Returns. This time my spell count was high enough for Tendrils to be lethal, but after exiling twenty cards
and playing all those Wishes, I had only three live cards left in my deck, and I didn’t draw any of them.
This was still a really awesome game.
Round 4 — Lose 0-2 vs. Merfolk (3-1)
I’ve seen Brad Jarman around, but I don’t think we’d played before this round. I wasn’t excited to play against Merfolk.
Games 1 and 2, I lose horribly. The first game I mulliganed a hand with only a fetchland for mana that looked like it would lose to Wasteland, and
kept a bad six and was pummeled. The second game I kept a decent seven and drew junk, and had to use a mini-Tendrils to buy a turn which ultimately
accomplished absolutely nothing.
This matchup seems really, really bad. If your Merfolk opponent is playing lots of Lords and Kira, you’ve got a shot â€” but against Wasteland,
Cursecatcher, Spell Pierce, Daze, Force of Will, and Standstill, there can be no victory. Well, you can probably steal some wins because TES is very
powerful, but this is probably the least favorable matchup among the top-tier decks.
This is currently a problem as Merfolk is relatively popular, but I think this problem will diminish over time. Merfolk is always going to be present
in the metagame â€” but as long as it isn’t overrun with it, you can still play TES. Again, it helps that your opponent may not know you’re playing TES.
Round 5 — Win 2-1 vs. NO Bant (4-1)
I had to play my friend Allen this round and knew he was on NO Bant, which seems like another bad match-up — but I felt much better here than the
previous round, even though NO Bant has Spell Pierce, Daze, Force, and CB-Top. It doesn’t produce the same consistent clock as Merfolk, and has more
dead cards; as long as you keep the CB-Top combo off the board, you’ve got a shot.
Game 1, I led out with Duress, seeing a hand of lands, Daze, and triple Brainstorms, making my Duress rather weak. Unfortunately, Allen couldn’t find
anything relevant with those Brainstorms and a Ponder, and when my Orim’s Chant resolved on turn 3, it was Ad Nauseam time.
Game 2 was close, but Allen drew a billion counters (or, more accurately, five) and kept me from doing much while beating down with one Goyf.
Round 6 — ID into Top 8 (4-1-1)
Top 8 — Lose 1-2 vs. Dreadtill (4-2-1)
And here I thought only Rich Shay still played Dreadtill! This is one of the more depressing CB-Top matchups for TES, as they have Wasteland, and
Stifle, and potentially a very fast clock. Still, this was a close match punctuated by me screwing up game 1.
Game 1, I stared down “Island, Go” with my “Gemstone, Go.” My opponent played Counterbalance on his second turn, and I countered with Pyroblast, which
he countered with Force of Will. That’s a bummer, man.
I played a land and passed. He then played a third land, a Goyf, and passed back. I played a Lotus Petal to see if I could check his library, but he
just let it resolve. I played another, same thing — resolved. Then I played Orim’s Chant. He checked his deck with Counterbalance on the Chant, and
revealed Vendilion Clique on top: a blank.
So with Chant on the stack, he played Brainstorm. I had Dark Ritual and Ad Nauseam in hand, plus an untapped land and two Lotus Petals. Therefore,
the right response to Brainstorm is to play Dark Ritual, and then unless I’m facing Daze or Force of Will, my Ad Nauseam will resolve post-Brainstorm
(when my opponent put one from his hand on top of his deck, as expected).
Instead, I just let the Brainstorm happen, and then walked a Ritual into it.
Game 3, I kept a hand with a lot of lands and Ponder, figuring I’d hedge my bet on extra mana given Daze, Stifle, and Wasteland. This proved to be a
wise choice when Nick revealed a Wasteland, and then another. The third Wasteland on my Volcanic Island? That one hurt. The fourth Wasteland to
compete the Quad-Lazer Death Cannon, well, that just nailed the coffin shut.
Thoughts on TES
This deck is very consistent, even without Mystical Tutor. The fact that you can’t fetch a basic, Mystical for Ad Nauseam, and then go off means that
you’re playing a totally different game â€” but unless I was facing disruption, (and sometimes even in the face of disruption), I was going off
comfortably on turns 2 and 3 all day. Even more impressive, I was often choosing how I went off (Tendrils, Empty, IGG). I was also doing all of this
while, optimistically, maybe playing this deck at 70% proficiency. Probably less.
I never Wished for Eye of Nowhere, Deathmark, or Innocent Blood. The latter two came up sometimes in testing, but the former, well — I think it’s some
kind of joke card. Maybe I’ll replace it with War Mammoth or something next time, because that’s about how good it is. There are other, better cards
you might want; maybe Hull Breach, or Pyroclasm, perhaps another Ad Nauseam for the Countertop matchup, or just shaving out some cards to make room for
Xantid Swarms so you don’t scoop â€˜em up against Merfolk.
Legacy is still a format in flux, and it might seem counterintuitive to suggest you play Storm when Merfolk and Counterbalance are top-tier decks,
possibly even “the” top tier of decks. That said, there is some logic in that decks people are fielding against that top tier — be it Burn, Goblins,
Lands, Junk / Rock, etc — are highly vulnerable to a competent Storm player. Watch the metagame closely and see if you think you have more good
matchups than bad with Storm right now. You might be surprised.
No Mystical? No problem.