Unlocking Legacy —Breakfast of Champions

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In my last article, I very briefly discussed my match with Alix Hatfield at a 50-player event in Annandale, Virginia. He was the eventual tournament winner — he and three of his compatriots took Top 8 slots with A Cephalid Illusionist deck. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the combo revolves around the Nomads/Shaman En-Kor and Cephalid Illusionist…

I shall be breakfasted before you are afield. In short, I shall astonish you all.

Thomas Hardy – Far From the Madding Crowd

Pay 2 mana. Put a bunch of cards in my graveyard. Put some of them into play. You lose.

That’s how most of us were introduced to the Flash format. Most of us were left with something to be desired. Too little interaction. Not enough room to disrupt it, or time with which to disrupt it. It was a control deck, with a two mana win condition. Too good, they said, and with that, the deck was banned.

Pay 3 mana. Put a bunch of cards in my graveyard. Put some of them into play. You lose.

The similarities are striking. However, this second deck is completely legal, and is seeing a fair (in both senses of the word) amount of success in Legacy.

In my last article, I very briefly discussed my match with Alix Hatfield at a 50-player event in Annandale, Virginia. He was the eventual tournament winner — he and three of his compatriots took Top 8 slots with this deck:

4 Force of Will
3 Cabal Therapy
4 Worldly Tutor
4 Brainstorm
4 Portent
2 Eladamri’s Call
4 Cephalid Illusionist
3 Nomads En-kor
1 Shaman En-kor
4 Narcomoeba
2 Phyrexian Dreadnought
1 Dread Return
1 Sutured Ghoul
1 Dragon Breath
1 Stern Proctor

4 Aether Vial
4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
4 Tundra
3 Tropical Island
2 Underground Sea

Those of you familiar with pre-the-last-rotation Extended will recognize a lot from this list. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the combo revolves around the Nomads/Shaman En-Kor and Cephalid Illusionist.

Once you have both combo pieces in play, you repeatedly use the En-Kor ability to target your Cephalid Illusionist, each time milling three cards to your graveyard. You assemble Sutured Ghoul, Dragon Breath, Dread Return, and some number of creatures in your graveyard, along with 1 to 3 Narcomoebas in play, and Flashback the Dread Return, returning Sutured Ghoul to play. The Ghoul removes enough creatures to have greater than 20 power, and the Dragon Breath triggers and enchants the Ghoul, giving it Haste. You attack for the win.

Like any other deck that aims to utilize the graveyard, Time Spiral block, and specifically Future Sight, brought a plethora of goodies to the table. Dread Return is the engine that allows this combo to function. Narcomoeba is obviously good, as well. They allow you a free reanimation spell once you assemble the combo pieces, and additionally provide fodder for flashing back Cabal Therapy to clear your opponent’s hand of any answers he may have.

Alix’s version of the deck did an excellent job surprising the metagame in Virginia, and although it has a rough game versus Goblins due to their mana disruption, cheap creature removal, and fast clock, it has excellent matchups versus the more traditional combo hate decks like Threshold and Landstill. Aether Vial allows Breakfast to circumvent opposing countermagic on the combo pieces, and concentrate its own counters and disruption on removal or attempts to stop the combo once it’s established.

It wasn’t until after the Annandale tournament, however, that this became another in a string of decks to find The Great Green Hope. In a post on The Source, Gábor Lehel (Illisius) offhandedly suggested Tarmogoyf as a replacement for the hard-to-utilize Dreadnoughts. It was, in a word, genius. Due to the new ruling change regarding */* creatures’ power and toughness when not in play, a removed Tarmogoyf would continue to check his stats from the removed-from-game zone. This meant four ‘Goyfs would be about the same size as two Dreadnoughts, but be infinitely more castable. It provided the deck a workable way to win the game outside the combo, and an efficient plan B versus Goblins. Most of the major Legacy names kept the tech as quiet as possible until the upcoming GenCon Championships, until Jesse Hatfield placed in the Top 8 during that event. The cat is now out of the bag, and Legacy has found yet another way to abuse the dreaded Lhurgoyf.

A brief interlude on “the rules.” Since the change in the way Lhurgoyfs work in not-in-play zones, a bit of confusion has arisen as to their interaction with Sutured Ghoul. The question was basically, does Ghoul’s Power “lock in” once I remove the creatures, or does it check at all times, and see the Goyf’s power change in the RFG Zone? A fair amount of debate occurred, mostly because of the similarly worded, but dissimilarly functioning Dracoplasm (which has now been addressed as well, as discussed in Aaron Forsythe’s column this week). Both creatures have been updated, and the official ruling is that the Ghoul constantly checks. This means, with an empty graveyard, a Tormod’s Crypt from an opponent can make your Ghoul shrink quite quickly.

Here’s the list I’ve been running, and recently won a Mox Sapphire with:

As you can see, the deck has evolved since its unveiling. We’ve dropped the Eladamri’s Calls, and with them, the Stern Proctor as a tutorable answer. After discussing the possible problem artifacts and enchantments that Proctor solves, it was settled that Leyline of the Void is the scariest one. Echoing Truth solves that problem even better, and can still be tutored for using the Lim-Dul’s Vaults. I found Portent extremely underwhelming, and was disappointed with it in nearly every scenario. There is still some disagreement within my team on whether or not the deck needs the additional set of cantrips, and which one should take the slot after Brainstorm, but all my testing has shown that the deck functions extremely well without the second set. As great as they can be with Lim-Dul’s Vault, the addition of the Abeyances, the basic land, and the third Therapy have been much, much stronger.

An aside on Lim-Dul’s Vault — I’m not sure how many of you have played with this card, but if you haven’t, you’re missing out. Vampiric Tutor does not need to be unbanned in Legacy. We already have it. For a mere two mana, you literally get to find every possible card you could want. Vault is absolutely one of those cards that could see the banned list, should it ever get to the point that people appreciate it for what it is — an absurdly good tutor.

The other significant change we made to the list was to add a pair of Abeyances to the maindeck. When I was playing Landstill, I began to adopt the attitude of “Whatever, I’ll just play Humility and win.” Generally, this was an excellent plan. With Breakfast, it’s the same way. People are constantly asking me things like “Doesn’t Extirpate beat you?” “How do you deal with Tormod’s Crypt?” “What if your opponent plays Swords to Plowshares?” I find myself adopting the same sort of attitude with Abeyance as I did with Humility. “Whatever, I’ll just Abeyance them and win.” It literally solves every game 1 problem you’re likely to have. Pair it with Echoing Truth and Force of Will, and you’re bullet proof. Oh, and it cantrips. Derf.

From the sideboard, we see a whole lot of strange and wonderful tech. Crippling Fatigue (Go ahead and look it up. I’ll wait…) allows you to pop a meddlesome Mage chanting Dread Return (even if a second one chants Echoing Truth). Krosan Grip is the new standard for enchantment and artifact removal. Stifle serves dual roles as additional support for the Storm combo matchups and as defense from Wastelands, Engineered Explosives, and Gempalm Incinerators. It nerfs a lot of the Goblins that give you headaches, so it’s an all around good card. Pithing Needle is a workable alternate for this slot, although personally I prefer the versatility of Stifle to the permanence of Needle. Deed is the ultimate reset button, completely nabbed from the sideboard of the Aluren decks that have seen popularity. It solves any permanent-based problem you may see arise, and although it’s mana is seated across your tertiary colors, it’s well worth the exposure of your manabase to turn off the entire board. While I have tested Engineered Explosives in this slot, I’ve found the Deeds more desirable, as they solve more issues all at once.

With three Cabal Therapies in the deck (most of my compatriots only run two), you have the ability to miss with your first one, and still knock out that piece of removal or that counterspell. Here are some things to name, if you have to blindly run one out there, and a little on the overall matchups with the upper tier.

Threshold — This will depend on the land you’ve seen. If you’ve seen a Volcanic Island or a Tundra, the strategy changes. If you see Breeding Pool, the same is true. In general, try to leave as much mana open as possible to play around any Dazes, and name Force of Will with a blind Therapy. If you know they’re in White (and have a White mana open) name Swords to Plowshares. Red Thresh builds actually have less relevant removal — Lightning Bolt is useless once the combo is on the table. If the opponent is tapped out, Snapback is an increasing possibility, after the first place deck of the GenCon championship utilized it. I wouldn’t name Snapback blindly, but don’t forget it exists. Thresh is never a matchup to be taken lightly, especially if they are featuring Wastelands and Stifles. If you get a fair amount of disruption to clear the way, this matchup can seem one sided. On the other hand, they have a knack for having a million counterspells in hand at all times. Vial is imperative in this match.

Goblins — Gempalm Incinerator. It will be your biggest headache. Additionally, try to shut down as many of their Mogg Fanatics as possible. You are the one matchup where a first turn Fanatic is arguably better than a first turn Lackey. Really, you should be looking to Abeyance them before you try to go off. This matchup is the reason you run Abeyance, especially why you run it over Orim’s Chant. This is a miserable matchup. Their mana disruption (versus your four-color manabase), creature removal (versus your hoard of 1/1s), and insane clock make it tough for you to find all the answers you need. On the other hand, Tarmogoyf goes a long way toward balancing the scales. Be happy to see him in the opening grip, and cast him all day. If you’re staring down a Mogg Fanatic, here’s a tip:
Run out a Goyf. If your opponent can’t deal with him, great! He’s also going to make it easier to combo. Most of the time, Goblins will try to disrupt you from comboing by killing one of the combo creatures in response to the second one being cast or Vialed in. If you have another creature in play (say, a Tarmogoyf), you can feel free to play the En-Kor without fear of removal in response to the Illusionist. You would be amazed at how often people forget the En-Kor actually have a relevant ability.

The same is true for Cephalid Illusionist, for that matter. While people are well aware that he mills when targeted, and some realize he can target himself with another ability, few really remember what the second ability is, and don’t bother to read the card. Illusionist’s ability is an excellent combat trick, and goes a long way to stalling the ground (or air with a hardcast Narcomoeba) while you try to assemble the win.

Landstill — Force of Will, unless you expect Extirpate. If they have access to Black mana, you have to name Extirpate. This deck is a threatening pile of cards, especially if they are in more than two colors, but in my experience, you still have the upper hand. Vial is as critical in this matchup as it is Thresh, but at the same time, Landstill is generally more afraid of it, because it also shuts off their draw engine. Use it as bait for counterspells if necessary. Abeyance shines in this matchup because of its Orim’s Chant side, and you should be looking to assure a win with it if you can.

Belcher — One of the few matchups where you will find yourself playing defense (unless you have a turn 2 win). Abeyance can be used to shut them down mid combo, if you get the opportunity to use it this way. Force of Will obviously shines. Therapies should be on their win conditions, or on Lion’s Eye Diamond. Turn 1 I generally name Empty the Warrens if I have Force, otherwise Belcher is the biggest threat. Post board, Stifle and Deed answer the EtW, and you get more disruption for the early game. If you can shut them down once, you should have plenty of time to assemble the win.

That’s all I’ve got for now, folks. Hopefully I’ve managed to give you a little insight into the way one of the new Legacy powerhouses functions. It’s a blast to play – a great mix of all my favorite parts of the game. I encourage all of you to test it out, and hopefully you’ll see a bit of success with it, too. Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.