True-Name Or Combo?

Take a look at the metagame of Grand Prix Paris with Patrick Chapin, author of Next Level Deckbuilding, before Legacy at the SCG Open Series in St. Louis this weekend!

True-Name or combo? Those are my options?

. . .

Spain is beautiful this time of year.

The East Coast of the US? Less so.

Between the SCG Open Series in New Jersey being canceled on account of inclement weather and the Pro Tour format being Modern (not Standard), Born of the Gods’ impact on Standard remains a bit less well understood than would generally be the case at this point. There is one major Constructed tournament going on however:

A Legacy Grand Prix in Paris!

A Legacy GP in Paris the week before the PT is unlikely to draw many Americans (aside from the American contingent of Team Revolution). As a result, the metagame is going to be a somewhat different animal than we see in US events. This happens in every format but is especially true in Legacy. The big picture elements are often the same, but there are a lot of basic assumptions about the format that people make differently on either side of the ocean, leading to a different foundation.

Let’s take a look at the day 2 metagame of Grand Prix Paris:


*Graveyard Combo includes Dredge, Reanimator, and Lands.

**Nic Fit is code for “uses Veteran Explorer and Cabal Therapy,” though not all Nic Fit decks are strictly Jund.

***Misc Combo includes Belcher and Painted Stone.

While the US scene has often seen Delver of Secrets above Stoneforge Mystic occupying the top spot, the European scene has it flipped. It could be a local metagame type of thing, though more likely this is fallout from the printing of True-Name Nemesis. A few of those Stoneforge Mystic decks feature Delver of Secrets as well, but certainly not the vast majority of them.

The US scene has been dominated by three major archetypes over the past year: Stoneforge Mystic, RUG Delver, and Non-Delver BUG. This is where it gets interesting. GP Paris featured very little RUG Delver and Non-Delver BUG. Instead, the second most played archetype was actually BUG Delver. Again, my first guess is more reaction to True-Name Nemesis (which black can actually answer, whereas RUG is in a real bad spot when facing it).

After you get outside the big three, it is customary to see a couple combo archetypes (and Show and Tell is always one of them). Interestingly, instead of Reanimator Miracles achieved reasonable success. This isn’t a combo deck per se, but it kind of functions as one sometimes.

For another perspective, let’s take a look at the metagame at the top. This is breakdown of the Top 16 metagame of GP Paris, with the Top 8 decks weighted twice that of Top 16 decks.


Not a whole lot is surprising here aside from the ascent of Miracles. With three in the Top 8, there is no question Miracles delivered this weekend. Let’s start with it and see if we can get some clues as to whether it is a European favorite or if perhaps this is more consequence from True-Name Nemesis.

All three lists are fairly similar. The general idea is to abuse Terminus and Entreat the Angels with Brainstorm; Sensei’s Divining Top; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; and Ponder. When not miracling, you can play a passable Countertop control game.

Unlike lower-powered formats where you don’t want to draw Terminus when you can’t miracle it, this deck actually often digs to it. When you’re ready to miracle it, simply put it back on top and look like a genius.

A one-mana Hallowed Burial is pretty incredible in general, but there seems to be little doubt that True-Name Nemesis is at least partially responsible for the newfound interest in sweeping. Simply put, Legacy is full of sweeper effects these days. Even combo decks are using sweepers!

For instance, take a look at Kasper Eusen’s “Farmville” deck that he piloted to a Top 16 finish after an impressive undefeated day 1:

The core combo Kasper is trying to assemble is Dark Depths + Thespian’s Stage. Once you copy the Dark Depths, you’ll get Marit Lage immediately due to having no counters. Two-card combos are nothing special in Legacy, but Intuition makes the combo much sweeter. Even if you have neither half of the combo, you can Intuition for Dark Depths, Thespian’s Stage, and Life from the Loam. No matter what pile they give you, you have access to the combo next turn. The two lands are uncounterable, and even if they counter the Life from the Loam, you can threaten to do it every single turn until you get your way.

The blue library manipulation in a combo deck is nothing new, though it is cute that Living Wish both serves as a tutor for either half of the combo and as a control card that can let you interact with opponents faster than you (something this list sorely needs, as it isn’t the fastest combo deck in the room). This is not to say that this is a slow deck however. Turn 1 Exploration with either combo piece in hand can lead to a turn 2 Marit Lage if you have Crop Rotation!

This combo is pretty sweet, but the most topical element of Kasper’s list is the use of three maindeck Supreme Verdicts. Supreme Verdict is particularly appealing as a sweeper in a format where over 75% of the field plays Force of Will. In addition to be uncounterable, Supreme Verdict also has the special ability of being blue, making it pitchable to Force of Will. This is particularly strong on a sweeper since the matches where you most need a Force of Will are often the matches where sweepers can sit in your hand as basically blanks.

What is the future of Lands? I wonder if there is a way to fuse it with Vampire Hexmage + Dark Depths. Volrath’s Stronghold might be a worthwhile singleton in such a deck, letting you set up more Intuition packages. We’d probably want exactly three Vampire Hexmages in order to be able to Intuition for them while still having one in the board for Living Wish.

Of course, we don’t need to go the redundancy route. We could just rely on tutors to find the pieces and play a little slower of a game. In fact, if you are playing Vampire Hexmage, it’s probably in place of the Supreme Verdicts. Either you’re trying to play it like a fast combo deck or want to play an interactive game. Both paths have merits.

Vampire Hexmage brings with it Thoughtseize for added combo hate and Urborg Tomb of Yawgmoth as a mana fixer that can give our Dark Depths added utility (by actually tapping for mana). Remember, turn 1 Urborg Thoughtseize, turn 2 Dark Depths Vampire Hexmage is a tough opening to beat.

Let’s take a look at the big three decks, starting with the most successful of them in BUG Delver. Has True-Name Nemesis really perverted the entire format to such a degree that every deck is built around it or to beat it?

True-Name Nemesis is not only a pillar of Delver at this point but also has a major influence on the chosen color combination. As we can see, edicts like Liliana and Diabolic Edict aren’t even as good as it gets. The new anti-True-Name technology is to use Marsh Casualties. For just two mana, you kill all enemy True-Names, Dark Confidants, Snapcaster Mages, and Vendilion Cliques. Additionally, you can even kick it later to hit Deathrite Shaman or Stoneforge Mystic. As if that wasn’t enough, it gives us access to added sweepers for fighting decks like Elves.

Engineered Plague is also a fine answer to True-Name Nemesis, though it is not what you want to rely on if you have True-Names of your own (since it would actually lock out both yours and your opponent’s). Engineered Plague is pretty hot in the format, though, so it should definitely be on black deck shortlists when building sideboards.

Jose’s maindeck is nothing out of the ordinary. Just pick all the best cards of two other colors and put them in a Brainstorm + Force of Will deck and you’re playing Legacy.

Jose wasn’t playing the only BUG Delver deck in the Top 8 however:

What’s this? The eventual champ was the lone holdout? Not a True-Name Nemesis in the 75? Which is not to say he wasn’t prepared. Diabolic Edict, Engineered Plague, Golgari Charm, and maindeck Liliana reveal a strategy packed to the brim with ways to kill a True-Name Nemesis. Could it be that Javier anticipated that everyone else would do the same thing he did and play tons of anti-True-Name cards?

If so, it may have just been the genius that gave him an edge in the Grand Prix. After all, True-Name Nemesis preys on fair decks, but from the looks of it there sure weren’t many of those in this particular tournament, at least not by the end of day 2. Maybe True-Name Nemesis is its own greatest adversary, having hunted its prey to virtual extinction.

While BUG Delver was certainly the more popular approach, RUG Delver did show up in moderation:

It’s hard to take full advantage of True-Name Nemesis in RUG, with no discard to “protect” it, no Equipment to enhance it, and no planeswalkers to protect. Still, the card is busted in half, so you might as well use a couple copies. The card is just the ultimate way to screw over fair decks. At least RUG has Umezawa’s Jittes in the board to get extra value out of the True-Names post-board.

Only two Tarmogoyfs?

Here we see a couple Scavenging Oozes instead of Goys thanks to the combination of needing more anti-graveyard cards (since we have no Deathrite Shaman), and honestly when your two-drop is getting shut down by True-Name Nemesis, it’s kind of nice for it to continue to have an impact on the game.

The mechanics and gameplay behind True-Name Nemesis wouldn’t be so bad if not for just how absurdly powerful the card is. After all, tons of cards like Warp World are kind of BS too, but their power level is low enough that they are not defining the format with their nonsense.

Over 40% of the decks in day 2 played True-Name Nemesis!

What’s worse is that of those that did not play True-Name Nemesis around 80% of them played combo. The main exceptions were Miracles, nonblue Stoneforge Mystic decks, and Nic Fit, although Nic Fit is not the least combo-rific deck I have ever seen. For instance:

Birthing Pod, Green Sun’s Zenith, and Recurring Nightmare? No question that is a somewhat loose use of the term “non-combo deck,” but I guess technically this is what constitutes playing fair in Legacy when you aren’t playing True-Name Nemesis.

Rounding out the four most played decks, we have our first true combo entry:

Sneak and Show has been proclaimed by many as the most unfair deck in Legacy. It doesn’t seem to perform quite as well as advertised, but there’s no denying its unfairness. Turn 1 Emrakuls and Griselbrands are just standard operating procedure.

Why play an unfair combo deck? Well, a whole lot of people are playing True-Name Nemesis. True-Name Nemesis says “interaction is not allowed,” so naturally more people are playing combo decks that attempt to avoid playing an interactive game of Magic.

For reference, the format was about 34% combo before True-Name Nemesis was printed. Now it is about 44% combo. With True-Name Nemesis decks everywhere and combo on the rise, who gets squeezed out? Well, frankly, most everyone doing anything else.

While I did not list it among the Show and Tell decks, there is another archetype that features Show and Tell. Reanimator has long used the card as a sideboard plan, but maindecking it has gained popularity again.

Ashen Rider has gone on to do a lot more than just replace Angel of Despair. Exiling instead of killing is pretty great, and hitting something on the way out adds enough raw power to make you want to be on this plan. Both Sneak and Reanimator rely on it to clean up difficult problems. Most of the time you are just Griselbranding anyway, seeing as Legacy is this format that just allows you to play with a card significantly more powerful than Yawgmoth’s Bargain (not to mention significantly easier to cheat into play).

The rest of your creatures? Well, the question is really this: what creatures are so good at what they do that you might want them instead of Griselbrand? Easy:

So what does Grand Prix Paris say about the format?

As should be painfully obvious by now, the format revolves around True-Name Nemesis. There are answers out there, and perhaps the problem will “correct” itself. After all, the trophy did go to the guy who put True-Name Nemesis back up on the shelf.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s that easy. True-Name Nemesis has a power level so unreasonably high that it’s unlikely to ever drop below “a big chunk of the field.” This spells bad things for the future of non-combo decks that fold to it. Perhaps there are enough ways to interact with it that the fair decks can just dedicate a large chunk of their deck to -1/-1s, sweepers, edicts, and the like. We’ll see. My concern there is that the fair decks were already working from such a hole.

Either way, this is a dynamic time in Legacy. How much will these results influence the upcoming SCG Legacy Opens? True-Name Nemesis is a strong card, but it can be beat, as we saw this past weekend.

Alright, I’m out for the week. There’s a Pro Tour this weekend, so I might as well learn to draft. As for Modern, Wild Nacatl, Bitterblossom, and Deathrite Shaman mix things up quite a bit. What do you expect to be the big three decks in the format besides Zoo?

I’d tune in this weekend. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a fun one . . .

Next Level Deckbuilding