True Blue In Legacy

If you’re still trying to settle on a deck for Grand Prix Washington DC this weekend, check out SCG Invitational winner Todd Anderson’s Esper Deathblade and BUG Control lists!

With Grand Prix Washington DC coming up this weekend featuring the Legacy format, I’ve got my work cut out for me. There are so many strategies to fight against and so many intensely difficult cards to beat, but that just means I need to go back to my roots.

For many of you, "my roots" probably means something different. I’ve played so many different decks in Legacy that it is actually a bit difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve had success in the past with Maverick, Reanimator, RUG Delver, Shardless BUG, and various Stoneforge Mystic decks. More recently I played a ton with Esper Deathblade, and I even won a few StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens earlier this year. Since then I haven’t really done all that well in the format as I keep changing decks from week to week, and the most recent success of Stoneforge Mystic in the SCG Legacy Open in Dallas has me wanting to take another look at Esper Deathblade.

Since Magic Online doesn’t release the new Commander decks until December, I don’t have a lot of time to actually playtest with my new favorite card:

What can I say about this guy that hasn’t already been said? He’s basically a mini Progenitus but has something more akin to hexproof so that you can actually suit him up with Equipment. This makes him a perfect candidate for a Stoneforge Mystic deck, but there are probably a number of strategies that he’ll fit snugly into. I have yet to play a game with him, but I can only imagine how hard he is for a fair deck to deal with, especially if you’re able to protect him from those scant few cards with Force of Will, Daze, Spell Pierce, and discard effects.

True-Name Nemesis will change the way we view Legacy for a long time. Blue decks now have access to a creature that does something similar to Tarmogoyf on offense yet lacks the vulnerability to Swords to Plowshares from control decks. Without that vulnerability, midrange blue decks now have an easy route to victory.

On top of being immune to spot removal, True-Name Nemesis can’t be blocked by an opposing creature. This means you’ll force other blue decks into using the dreaded +2 ability from Jace, the Mind Sculptor instead of gaining the full value out of Brainstorming. Being able to keep Jace off the table was one of the soft spots for Esper Deathblade in previous versions since all of your Stoneforge Mystics and Dark Confidants didn’t like to attack much. True-Name Nemesis solves that problem quite easily.

The other added benefit of True-Name Nemesis is that you can actually play defense. Before your creatures were quite mediocre and couldn’t really handle a Nimble Mongoose. Now True-Name Nemesis gives you some breathing room when it comes to stabilizing the board, and you can actually keep your own Jace alive without having to throw away all of your creatures.

One of the hardest matchups for Esper Deathblade after the new legendary rule change was Shardless BUG. When a 2/2 for 1GU is hard to deal with on its own, let alone the card advantage they gain from cascade, you know something is wrong. Whether I was playing Dark Confidant or Geist of Saint Traft, I never felt like I could get a real handle on the board state and keep my opponent’s threats in check. True-Name Nemesis solves yet another problem for the deck.

Building The Best Stoneforge Deck

This past weekend showcased Ty Thomason’s U/W Stoneblade deck featuring the new addition of True-Name Nemesis. Let’s take a look at the deck and dissect it for improvement.

The first thing I noticed when I saw this list was a collection of one-of cards that make a lot of sense. The Equipment is easy enough to figure out. My early builds of Esper Deathblade all featured at least one Sword of something, and I was always leaning on Fire // Ice. Umezawa’s Jitte seems absurd with True-Name Nemesis, as that combo almost invalidates entire archetypes, and Batterskull is just Batterskull. But Celestial Flare? Really?

When I first saw that card in the list, I lost a little respect for the deck. I mean, come on. You are playing a card in Legacy that barely sees any play in Standard. What are you doing? Of course, snap reactions can be wrong fairly often until you get a grasp on what the card is actually there for. In this case, the answer was staring me right in the face. True-Name Nemesis is a card that this deck is also particularly soft to, so having an answer that effectively deals with it without playing too many Wrath of God effects is pretty sweet. It won’t always be the answer you need when you’re playing against Goblins, Death and Taxes, Elves, and the rest, but you need to pick your battles.

The singletons of Counterspell, Spell Pierce, and Spell Snare all seem a bit iffy to me, but I understand the concept. It is incredibly difficult for your opponent to play around your spells when they’re so diverse in what they accomplish. If they’re trying to slowroll their spells to play around Spell Pierce, you get to punish them with Counterspell and Spell Snare. And if they just try to jam their stuff early, Spell Pierce can be pretty effective.

I am usually in the camp of "find the best spell and play more copies," but Legacy needs to be approached with finesse. You have so many ways to dig through your deck that having a bit of versatility is quite h. Spell Pierce becomes invalidated after just a few turns, whereas Spell Snare will continue being a powerful card regardless of how late the game goes. The same goes for Counterspell, though it is obviously much worse when you’re on the draw.

Lastly, we come to the singleton Supreme Verdict. Honestly, I love the card, and I know what it is there for. Again, True-Name Nemesis is a beating, and you have to have ways to kill it. There aren’t a lot of easy ways to do it, but Supreme Verdict has the added benefit of being able to wipe the slate clean if you fall too far behind. It also can’t be countered and makes for a great answer to Delver of Secrets and Tarmogoyf if you’re able to get to four mana.

As someone who’s played a ton with Stoneforge Mystic in the past, there is a lot of information here to both learn from and ultimately try to improve upon. For starters, this particular version seems incredibly soft to Sneak and Show in the maindeck. With the resurgence of the archetype after the last SCG Invitational and its continuing success in the hands of William Jensen, one can only assume that it will be an incredibly popular deck at the Grand Prix. With only a handful of ways to interact with Show and Tell in game 1, we are leaning heavily on our sideboard. Force of Will is rarely enough to disrupt them, and you don’t exactly have a fast clock.

The first thing I would do is add a second Karakas to the deck. Obviously, legendary lands are rarely what you want to be adding second copies of, but Karakas is one of the most difficult cards for them to beat. And when combined with virtually any disruption, Karakas is a nightmare for them. The drawback is not rough enough to justify playing fewer than two. It is possible that we just want a second copy in the sideboard, as we never want to draw a redundant copy against decks like Delver, but I don’t want to get into a Griselbrand fight without one.

I actually have very little to add about the sideboard because it seems fantastic; I can tell that Ty really knew what he was doing. Spreading your disruption through multiple avenues is gigantic in Legacy, as having a linear sideboard strategy leads to easy answers from the opponent. You’re not going to beat them with a single Meddling Mage or Pithing Needle, but having those backed up by Swan Song, Flusterstorm, and the rest seems awesome. I also adore the singleton Detention Sphere and Venser, Shaper Savant as counters to Show and Tell that are actually just fine on their own in a number of other matchups.

I really like Ty’s list of U/W Stoneblade, so I don’t want to change it too much, but if I were to go in a different direction, here is what my list would look like for Esper Deathblade.

First up, let’s talk about the differences in this version since the core seems very similar to Ty’s U/W version. At its heart, this Esper Deathblade deck is very similar to Ty’s. Our threats are mostly the same, as are our win conditions and removal. The kicker is that Deathrite Shaman can send this deck into overdrive. Being able to cast your True-Name Nemesis a turn earlier is huge, and being the first player with a Jace on board is important in control mirrors. The downside is having to add another color to the deck, which will make you significantly weaker to opposing Wastelands.

While Ty opted to play Mishra’s Factory over Wasteland, I think that Deathrite Shaman makes Wasteland so much better. You don’t always want to draw one, but Deathrite into Wasteland and Stoneforge Mystic on turn 2 is kind of ridiculous. With so many important lands in the format, I also think it is necessary for control decks to play some number of ways to interact with such troublesome permanents. The upside of getting some random wins from drawing a Wasteland can’t be ignored either.

But Mishra’s Factory has its merits. You get more win conditions that can carry Equipment, which is a big deal when you are trying to grind through all of the opponent’s removal. However, in a world of True-Name Nemesis, I don’t know how often your opponent’s removal is going to matter all that much. If they can’t beat True-Name Nemesis, then the rest of your threats don’t actually matter since you’re going to be able to ride it to victory.

The black spells in the deck give you a significantly different angle of attack against combo decks. Where the U/W deck is focused on counterspells, we have a mix of counterspells and discard effects to pressure them on two fronts. If they go off too soon, Force of Will is much better. If they wait too long, a Thoughtseize or even Snapcaster Mage on the rebuy will deflate their entire plan.

One of my favorite parts about adding black to the deck is the fact that you make Snapcaster Mage much better. While I’m not sold on playing more than a couple, giving Snapcaster Mage multiple options is never a bad thing. Acting as additional copies of your discard, cantrips, and removal is so much better than being restricted to just two of those three. While we have fewer soft counters like Spell Pierce and Spell Snare, we can be much more aggressive with our Snapcaster Mages, playing them out on turn 3 with another discard spell while we also apply pressure to the board. When you’re playing a Stoneforge Mystic deck full of Equipment, this can be an invaluable way to accelerate your clock.

One new card that I want to try is Toxic Deluge. With so few pure aggressive strategies in Legacy, the life loss from Toxic Deluge doesn’t matter all that much. I don’t think you want it against decks featuring Delver of Secrets, but it feels so absurdly powerful against Elves, Goblins, Death and Taxes, and pretty much all the other True-Name Nemesis decks. The fact that you can do it for X=1 and keep your Deathrite Shamans and Stoneforge Mystics alive is potent, but having the option to "go bigger" is certainly reasonable.

While Toxic Deluge is not the Supreme Verdict type card you want against Delver decks, it will be a cheaper way to interact with a lot of archetypes in a big way and usually without hurting your own creatures. Of course, your own True-Name Nemesis will die to Toxic Deluge, but the same goes for Supreme Verdict. The only difference is that this is a Wrath of God effect we can control.

If Blood Moon ends up being a real concern, I will be happy with the scant few basic lands in the deck. Alongside an active Deathrite Shaman, we can cast a lot of our spells with little effort, but we’re lacking in effective ways to fight through it. If the Blood Moon lands too early or you weren’t able to search up a basic land in the early turns of the game, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. At the very least, the Deathrite Shaman version will make you more resilient to Wasteland, which is never a bad thing, though the increase in dual lands might just make you break even in the exchange.

Shardless-less BUG

Ever since Gerry Thompson built Shardless BUG last year, the deck has been consistently doing well on the SCG Legacy Open circuit. While it doesn’t seem to win a ton of events, it does put a lot of people into Top 8s. At the Invitational in New Jersey a few months ago, it was the deck of choice of half the competitors in the Top 8! While only half of the event was Legacy, that says a lot about an archetype.

But now that the format is moving more towards combo, I’m not sure that you can bring a BUG deck to battle that is reliant on something as slow as Ancestral Vision. While the card is incredibly powerful against other fair strategies, both on suspend and through cascade with Shardless Agent, I don’t really see it doing what you want it to do. The fact that True-Name Nemesis has been released also means that the three-drop slot is going to be in heavy contention over the next few months.

With that in mind, I decided to brew up a little concoction that is at its heart similar to the BUG Control decks that existed before the printing of Shardless Agent.

While the Stoneforge Mystic decks falter at the hands of a single Lightning Bolt, this deck is much more resilient. Your threats are much stronger on defense, allowing solid protection for your Jace, the Mind Sculptor as well as your life total. Baleful Strix provides a positive way to interact with most Delver strategies for a small mana investment. Strix is particularly awesome with Umezawa’s Jitte because most decks don’t have too many flying blockers.

The fact that Baleful Strix is a blue creature, while Dark Confidant is not, gives you enough blue cards in your deck to support Force of Will. Without Baleful Strix, you would have to sacrifice removal or discard effects in order to make the fit. The fact that Strix is also just an awesome value creature that puts a Griselbrand into an awkward position is hilarious.

The big draw of playing this deck over a Stoneforge Mystic deck is that you have Abrupt Decay to help out against a variety of potential threats. Decay is much harder to splash into Esper Deathblade, though not impossible. I would rather just have a more stable mana base to be honest. Abrupt Decay is stellar against so many random cards in Legacy and also acts as a hard removal spell against any sort of tempo deck. It is so much better against an opposing Delver deck than something like Lightning Bolt and even Swords to Plowshares at times. The fact that they can’t Daze, Spell Pierce, or Force of Will an Abrupt Decay is sick.

Tarmogoyf is also just Tarmogoyf. It provides an excellent clock against any strategy and plays nicely with True-Name Nemesis on both offense and defense. The fact that you can continually play big threats that are tough to deal with is pretty nice against all of the fair decks, not to mention almost all of your creatures hold Umezawa’s Jitte quite nicely. True-Name Nemesis has changed the game, and Umezawa’s Jitte is too good not to play alongside it. The fact that we now also have Abrupt Decay to contain their Jitte is huge since the legendary rule no longer applies.

The sideboard is a nod to the existence of Show and Tell. Our maindeck is pretty generic when it comes to disruption. We have some discard effects and some Force of Wills. We can’t really interact with their combo if it resolves, as playing Karakas feels like suicide in a three-color deck with heavy mana requirements. This means that our sideboard needs dedication, and we have that in Gilded Drake. While Gilded Drake only affects the Show and Tell part of their combo and not the Sneak Attack part, that just means we can focus on dealing with their Sneak Attack if we happen to have a Gilded Drake in hand. 

With Swan Song, Pithing Needle, and even Golgari Charm to a lesser extent, we have quite a few ways to interact with Sneak Attack while also having spells that are versatile enough to come in against other matchups. One of the most important parts about Legacy that I like to stress is that your sideboard needs to be versatile when you’re playing a fair deck. You need spells that can interact with multiple archetypes in unique ways. If your sideboard isn’t versatile enough, you could find yourself stuck with too many mediocre cards left in your deck against a combo opponent, and that is never a good feeling!

Mr. Anderson Goes To Washington

I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a while now. Legacy is absolutely my favorite format to play for multiple reasons, and this tournament will hopefully be a stepping stone for me to get back on the Pro Tour. Obviously a Top 8 (or Top 4) is not outside the realm of possibility, but I will still have to get pretty lucky and bring a solid deck to the table.

If you have any suggestions about the above decklists, I would love to hear them. The two I’ve been working on have been strictly theorycrafting, as I haven’t had a chance to test with True-Name Nemesis yet. I think the card is bonkers, though it is obviously mediocre against combo decks. I’m just banking on the disruption package to help in those matchups as well as a prepared sideboard plan.

If you’re coming to DC, then I’ll see you there!

Thanks for reading.

Todd Anderson
strong sad on Magic Online
@strong_sad on Twitter