The Mental Misstep Matchup: Realistic Results For Realistic People

Tuesday, May 3 – Three time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Ari Lax playtested a variety of different top-tier Legacy matchups with Mental Misstep. Is Mental Misstep the true messianic card that will strike combo down? Or an overhyped do-nothing spell? Real results inside.

Assuming you follow Legacy at all, you’re probably already sick of hearing about Mental Misstep. Literally all anyone has been talking about is how it
will or won’t fundamentally change the format, throwing out lists of everything from Fish to Cat Sligh with four of the card or spinning hypothetical
scenarios about how relevant or irrelevant the card is.

This article is not that. It is not theory crafting or deck brewing. These are results and where to go from there.

The sample sizes on these aren’t large, but most of these are matchups I’ve played a reasonable amount before. The goal here is not to give percentages
but instead to examine how one card affects game play.

Merfolk vs. Storm

Before Mental Misstep:

This was one of the closer matchups in Legacy. I always felt Storm had a slight edge, but a lot of that might have been personal bias. Merfolk won by
applying quick pressure backed up by just enough disruption, but if they were just a bit short on disruption, Storm just won. If you were light on
aggression, Storm would have time to develop a hand that beat anything. Fortunately for Fish, assembling a mix of counters and clocks is all they did,
meaning the matchup could go either way.

The idea here was to get a measurement of how good combo still is in Legacy, or at least Storm. Rather than bash my head into a wall against something
like Team America or Counterbalance, which were bad matchups for Storm before Misstep, I aimed to see if the closer matchups swung significantly due to
the card.

The Storm list I tested with was the same 60 I’ve been playing for almost a year, with Grim Tutors.
As for Merfolk, beyond switching in four Mental Missteps for Spell Pierces and Merfolk Sovereign, I cut the cards that were dead in this matchup like
Kira and Sower of Temptation for Standstills.

After Mental Misstep:

Simply put, not much changed. The key thing Mental Misstep was supposed to accomplish against Storm was to protect your Forces from their Duresses, as
they can’t usually win through an in-hand Force. Merfolk just doesn’t have the draw power to reliably represent this. Even when they do draw both,
Storm can often get to a second Duress, as the heavier disruption hands aren’t usually as fast. Spell Pierce was also similarly effective in the role
of stopping Duress, as Storm could rarely produce the two extra mana to pay for their discard spell in the early setup turns.

When you don’t have a Force of Will, Mental Misstep is actually worse than Spell Pierce. If you wait for them to combo to cast Misstep, you risk them
not having a Dark Ritual to hit. Spell Pierce also punishes Ill-Gotten Gains lines much more than a Misstep, forcing them to have four extra mana
instead of just not having Dark Ritual. Aiming for the cantrips might catch them off-guard, but the deck is so redundant that they’ll have more.
Misstep will let you punish players for being sloppy with their cantrips and not seeing the maximum number of cards when digging for a Tutor, but Storm
has room to play more conservatively if necessary. The two life is also relevant, as Storm was already easily capable of getting to a twenty-point
Tendrils without going through any intermediate enabler like Ad Nauseam given just a bit of extra time. A two-life difference is worth about two mana
to them when they win with a Tutor chain, letting them kill through even more Dazes and Cursecatchers.

The lesson here? Combo is still real, and redundancy can trump Misstep.

Merfolk vs. Goblins

Before Mental Misstep:

Merfolk was a dog in the matchup, but it wasn’t unwinnable. If Goblins couldn’t start flooding the board quickly enough, Merfolk had a window where its
creatures would be 4/4s or bigger, crashing into 1/1s and 2/2s. The problem was that Goblins was specifically designed to get up and running before
Merfolk could establish a board. The disruption Merfolk had was only relevant on turn one due to Lackey and Vial dodging counters. Goblins also had
ways to clear the board while Merfolk usually had to reach for its sideboard to kill a creature.

Merfolk is not only a deck that gains a lot from Misstep, but one that’s naturally good against many of the other blue decks that will automatically
include it, so it’s a high priority to see how the fish people’s bad matchups will change.

The Goblins list I tested with was a very stock mono-red one, cutting Warren Weirdings to just play four of all the core cards and a solid amount of
lands. The Merfolk list was Alex Bertoncini latest, minus Sower of Temptation, Spell Pierce, and the Sovereigns for Missteps.

After Mental Misstep:

Old Goblins isn’t even a deck after Mental Misstep. Merfolk suddenly had the same number of answers on the draw as on the play, as you had one-drop
threats and even more answers on the play with Daze. Without a Goblin Lackey or Aether Vial, Goblins had serious issues doing anything in a reasonable
time frame. By the time they got around to casting another spell, Merfolk would have two creatures in play and still have live Dazes. Limited to one
creature a turn, Goblins’ adding a couple power and Matron or Ringleadering was irrelevant in the face of Merfolk just playing another Lord. Goblins
would be forced into chumping before they could create effective blocks and just ended up treading water a couple turns before dying.

Goblins does benefit a fair bit post-board due to Pyroblast and Pyrokinesis here, but the more disconcerting issue is that any blue deck can represent
this threat. While those cards are good against a bunch of Fish, they aren’t remotely as devastating against a Tarmogoyf. In order to compete, the deck
needs a significant makeover with more effects that let you cast your spells in a timely fashion. The first two Misstep-immune cards that come to mind
are Frogtosser Banneret and Warren Instigator, but those are both reasonably clunky.

The lesson here? If your deck ceases to function smoothly without hitting its one-drop, it’s not an option any more.

Merfolk vs. Zoo

Before Mental Misstep:

This matchup was embarrassing. Merfolk would be dead on board before it could do anything relevant unless it Force of Willed Zoo’s one-drop. Even if it
did so, Zoo would be ahead on cards and just get to profitably trade one-mana burn spells for three-mana lords. Grim Lavamancer was unbeatable, and
Zoo’s top-end creatures would brick wall almost any number of Lords.

Once Goblins failed, it was clear that Fish had to be put up against more worthy adversaries. Zoo was the next step up, and before Misstep, the matchup
was probably about as bad as it got barring Spinal Parasites.

The Merfolk list used was the same as in the Goblins matchup, while the Zoo list was a rather stock Cat Sligh list with Steppe Lynx, Chain Lightnings,
Fireblast, Knight of the Reliquary, and no Green Sun’s Zenith or Stoneforge Mystics.

After Mental Misstep:

Mental Misstep definitely helped Merfolk have the ability to cast their spells without just dying to a kitten. That said, it wasn’t enough. Zoo still
had the high-end trumps of Knight of the Reliquary and Tarmogoyf, still had removal spells that lined up well on mana, and still had Grim Lavamancer.
Merfolk could mise out a game where Zoo stumbled after a one-drop failed to resolve, but again redundancy was king.

The lessons here? Mental Misstep can definitely provide a window to follow up in, but if your follow-up is still weak to their deck, it won’t actually
solve the problem. Also, in Zoo, Steppe Lynx was also fairly disappointing, as the number of games it hit on turn one dropped significantly. If Mental
Misstep starts flooding the metagame, it might be another factor pushing Zoo towards Green Sun’s Zenith and other more expensive cards.

Merfolk vs. Four-Color Counterbalance

I’m going to preface this by saying that my Counterbalance list and play skills aren’t necessarily perfect. I’m sure there are masters who could have
found additional percentages here.

Before Mental Misstep:

Counterbalance was significantly behind to Aether Vial. That card almost invalidated their entire deck. The Merfolk cards also weren’t shabby without
it, mostly due to Lord of Atlantis pushing through any attempts to block. Still, if Vial wasn’t online, Counterbalance actually had a chance to play
out like a real control deck and sweep with Firespouts or lock things up with a Jace.

Counterbalance was a deck that was chased out of the metagame largely due to Aether Vial, and with Misstep around, pitting it up against the remaining
Vial decks will be a good indicator if it’s safe for the deck to return.

The Merfolk list I used was the same as the previous two matchups, while the Counterbalance list was the same as Tom Martell from Columbus, cutting
the Spell Snares, Oblivion Ring, and a Counterspell for Mental Missteps.

After Mental Misstep:

If anything, things felt worse for Counterbalance. While they gained a better answer for Aether Vial, Merfolk got even better at disrupting them.
Stopping a Brainstorm or Sensei’s Divining Top caused Counterbalance to stumble significantly, not to mention how good hitting a relevant Sword to
Plowshares was. Merfolk is also very functional without Vial and has a solid mix of costs to dodge a raw Counterbalance. Tarmogoyf and Jace were not
sufficient enough to stabilize the board, and while Firespout was, it was hard to resolve into a mix of Dazes, Wastelands, and Cursecatchers.

This matchup could definitely be better for Counterbalance if it had a better mana base, more interactive cards, and some more ways to pull ahead in
card advantage. Taking a cue from Ben Wienburg list from Indianapolis, Grim Lavamancer would obviously be very good. That said, it’s a long way from
where the matchup is now to a favorable one, especially without the reliable one-mana hand-fixing the deck had in the past.

Lessons here? Merfolk doesn’t require Aether Vial to function, and control needs to diversify its card advantage and selection to dodge Mental Misstep.

Counterbalance vs. Zoo

Before Mental Misstep:

Before, this matchup could go either way. In general, the linearity of the Zoo build and the skill of the Counterbalance player were the two biggest
factors. If Zoo was inconsistent in applying solid early pressure, Counterbalance could stabilize, but if Counterbalance was short on answers for any
reason, it died fairly quickly. In terms of mutable slots, Qasali Pridemage was very strong, both for forcing a creature through defending Tarmogoyfs
and keeping the lock off the table, and the other more expensive creatures were good at breaking through as long as you didn’t clunk up the deck too
much. Cheap burn was also very good if they didn’t have a super-fast lock, as it was very hard for them to stabilize at a high life total.

This is mainly to show how Zoo can perform against a true control deck, where Cats may not necessarily have a completely dominant advantage like
against Fish.

The same Counterbalance and Zoo lists from above were used here.

After Mental Misstep:

Similar to Merfolk, Counterbalance was able to buy a decent chunk of time when Zoo didn’t have a one-drop due to Misstep. However, the current list
wasn’t good enough at answering all of Zoo’s threats to capitalize on this. There definitely is the potential for the deck to do so, and it probably
involves either more card advantage or more board presence in the form of more dominant threats. Rhox War Monk and Knight of the Reliquary come to mind
here, as both get a lot better when you have time to cast them into a relatively controlled board due to Misstep.

I’d also consider an Enlightened Tutor build of Counterbalance, but there are three concerns here. First is that those decks rarely had room for
non-Force disruption, so it may be difficult to fit in Misstep. Second, Tutor itself is weak to Misstep, so the toolbox idea might have to be reshaped
a little to be more about helping finding a few powerful answers rather than a bunch of conditional singletons. Finally, the W/U Control decks in
Legacy have serious clock management issues. If you play them, be sure you can actually win in a fifty-minute round.

Yet again, the point here is that Misstep gives you a window, but your deck has to be properly set up to capitalize on it to win based on that.

Misstep Zoo vs. Storm

Before Mental Misstep:

I got bored at an event a couple months with Storm and decided to test against Zoo despite knowing it was a great matchup. I spotted Zoo the play every
game and free mulligans on anything that would be a mulligan in the dark. Storm ended the set 10-1, with the one loss involving Grim Tutor, a mulligan,
drawing many blanks, and Fireblast.

Some writers have claimed Mental Misstep deserves a place in aggressive decks, if only to cause combo decks to falter enough to let them win. Zoo is
the fastest aggro deck and likely the best positioned to take advantage of a free turn.

The Zoo list used was the one
proposed by
Drew Levin
two weeks ago in his article on Misstep, and the Storm list was again my own.

After Mental Misstep:

Mental Misstep was not even close to enough. Hitting a cantrip was much less than a turn of extra time gained, and most of the time, the Storm deck
could just win through it with a combination of Cabal Rituals, Lion’s Eye Diamonds, and, if necessary, a Duress to check if the way was clear. Almost
every game Storm had a line where Misstep was irrelevant.

You still need a real plan to beat combo. Mental Misstep isn’t enough even with a very fast clock. It definitely can be part of a plan, such as
protecting your hate bears from Thoughtseize or Chain of Vapors, but just jamming four in your deck and calling it a day doesn’t actually solve

Bant vs. High Tide

Before Mental Misstep:

This matchup was captured on camera in the Top 8 of StarCityGames.com Open: Atlanta betweenCaleb Durward and Jesse Hatfield, and I think that footage covers the matchup
almost completely. Bant is short on a clock and short on disruption to realistically fight High Tide.

I wanted to showcase some different strategies here, as the focus had been on Merfolk and Storm for aggro-control and combo respectively. High Tide is
a deck that leans heavily on its namesake card, a one-drop, and Bant is a deck that could use some extra disruption but didn’t have any good options
available. This is not only a test of how well Bant uses Mental Misstep, but also of High Tide’s ability to fight the card.

I used the same 75s from that matchup, removing two Sowers of Temptation, the Ponder, and a Vendilion Clique from Caleb’s Bant deck to fit four Mental

After Mental Misstep:

The Bant deck still felt a little light on disruption to win, but Mental Misstep definitely helped out. What was interesting was that after I watched
the Bant deck play out, it seemed like it would have problems with Misstep against a control deck. There were a lot of mediocre cards in the deck that
were basically leaning on Brainstorm to make up for their presence. High Tide also seemed like it would have an issue with a Mental Misstep backed up
by a bit more disruption, but it’s likely that any deck with that much disruption and Spell Pierce instead would probably be similarly effective.

The same concept as the Zoo deck applies here, in that you need more than just a couple counters to get there against the combo decks. The point about
Brainstorms being less reliable is also very important, which I’ll discuss in a minute.


Based on these games, I’ve come to a few conclusions about Mental Misstep and the new face of Legacy.

Mental Misstep is not a card that just goes in every deck. It’s definitely a strong option for a deck looking for a suite of cards aimed at making
their opponent stumble, or as a way for a deck to buy some setup time, but just doing what it does randomly in a deck that doesn’t have anything else
to match the effect isn’t what you want.

Even in the decks it belongs in, Mental Misstep is not a Force of Will, where the presence of the card just ends some matchups. It’s more a Wasteland,
where your opponent is punished for poor mulligans and deck construction. Instead of greedy mana bases being the issue, it’s greedy mana curves and
poor balance of situational cards. Like I said in the Goblins vs. Merfolk matchup, if your deck can’t function smoothly once its one-drop has been
countered, it definitely needs rethinking. In addition, decks have to watch the balance of removal and counters much more closely now that Brainstorm
isn’t as reliable to resolve.

As for the decks that gain the most, Counterbalance and Merfolk obviously get better. Counterbalance gets to ensure the game stays relatively
reasonable going to the midgame, while Merfolk gains yet another efficient disruptive spell. More traditional control decks with actual card advantage
will likely gain, as they more readily offset the loss of resolved Brainstorms than the other blue decks, assuming they can actually finish a round.
Decks like Green and Taxes will improve, as the advantages Zoo had over them are diminished. Combo in general takes a hit as the format gets more
focused, but it’s still very strong and not something to be dismissed.

Of course, you can always go with the option of just blanking their Mental Missteps much the same way decks now can be built to blank Wastelands. The
current decks that do this are the Ancient Tomb and Chalice of the Void decks, which really have been dormant for a while. The various monocolor Stompy
decks are still perfectly reasonable, but if you’re looking for a new angle, I’d advise MUD Poison. The deck was designed by Ann Arbor native, Stu
Parnes, and from there, it spread to the Meandeck forums and to Conley Woods, who eventually played it at a StarCityGames.com event. Here is Stu’s
latest list:

Conley’s list cut Rishadan Port for Arcbound Ravager, but talking with Stu and playing against the deck, I’ve found Port to be one of the best cards.
You can usually operate reasonably well while stunting their development with Port, and each turn you buy puts you closer to one-shotting them with a
Cranial Plating or having an active Jitte. You really don’t have a lot of artifacts you want to sacrifice to Ravager for value, making him a worse
Plating most of the time. As for the auxiliary equipment, Sword of Feast and Famine is there mostly because it interacts so well with Port, and
Umezawa’s Jitte gives you a crushing endgame to beat otherwise difficult creature decks. Conley also had Throne of Geth, but it really doesn’t get you
anywhere unless you’re moving to a more Smokestack-centric build.

Mental Misstep is definitely a strong card in new Legacy, but it doesn’t demolish the format in the way some people have been raving about it. It
definitely impacts deck construction in a way no card has in the past couple of years, and it decreases the number of high-tier archetypes rather than
increasing them, but it’s still just a good one-for-one. Regardless, make sure you do your own testing with the card. Things will change, and it’s key
to stay on top of them.