Unlocking Legacy – Death Cloud

Read Legacy articles every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Monday, April14th – Pernicious Deed. Damnation. Garruk Wildspeaker. Death Cloud. While writers argue about whether to run powerful cards or cards that synergize, Kevin Binswanger invites you to do both.

“War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.”
Thomas Mann

The deck I’ve spent the last few weeks on is immune to Blood Moon, with 7 basic lands in its two colors as well as Chrome Mox and seven fetchlands to dodge Wasteland. The deck can virtually ignore an early Chalice of the Void at zero or one: it runs only seven cards at those casting costs, and three of those are the aforementioned Mox. The deck ignores a resolved Counterbalance + Sensei’s Divining Top fairly easily, with plenty of three and above casting costs. It also runs Death Cloud.

Rocklike decks have success in all the Constructed formats, but they have been noticeably absent from Eternal, especially Legacy. The last few attempts had some success, but they stopped being prevalent or relevant far before the printing of Tarmogoyf. The closest the format has now is Eva Green, the Sui Black lists that add Green for Tarmogoyf. While they run Thoughtseize and other disruption, they are thoroughly beatdown decks. Legacy players love their Islands; blue gives us Force of Will and Brainstorm, so why would we want Thoughtseize and Sakura-Tribe Elder? The BG color combination has the most potent tools available to it in the form of Pernicious Deed and Damnation as well as the efficient disruption and creatures in use in other decks. That said, a Rock deck takes the right combination of cards to make it work; because of limited filtering capabilities if you build your deck wrong and draw the wrong spells, you will lose. Rather than do all the hard work myself, I found someone (Jon Sonne at GP Philadelphia) who had already done the hard work, and ported that decklist. Jon Sonne played this list to an 8th place finish at the Grand Prix, losing to Adam Yurchick’s UW Tron:

Death Cloud? Really? In a format with Force of Will? Actually, Death Cloud provided the initial motivation to build a deck. Justin Miousse (JuJu/Osse) messaged me on IRC with a bunch of ideas, the first of which was Death Cloud. I guess when I started talking about terrible cards like Quirion Ranger he got discouraged, but it really struck me. I fantasized about building the deck if only to Death Cloud away Threshold’s entire board on turn 5. Very few Legacy decks can survive a Death Cloud for 3 or 4; if you can keep any sort of gas after the Death Cloud you will recover faster. So I started testing, turning the Eternal Witnesses to Tombstalkers and changing the manabase to accommodate City of Traitors and Chrome Mox. That leaves us with this decklist:

3 Windswept Heath
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 City of Traitors
4 Bayou
4 Forest
3 Swamp

4 Ravenous Baloth
4 Garruk Wildspeaker
2 Tombstalker
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Tarmogoyf

3 Chrome Mox
3 Death Cloud
2 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Damnation
4 Thoughtseize
4 Pernicious Deed
2 Putrefy
2 Diabolic Edict

If you want to start tweaking the deck (and I strongly encourage you to), the Sakura-Tribe Elder count is wrong with the mana. There are 23 sources along with the 4 Tribe Elders, and the deck is prone to flooding. Jon Sonne had Treetop Village, but I do not want to risk the Comes Into Play tapped. Depending on how many Blood Moons and Wastelands you see locally, I would encourage Mutavaults.

I started the manabase with three Ancient Tomb and three Chrome Mox. Experience has told me that decks of this kind want three Chrome Mox; you’ll almost never see two, but you’ll see the first one enough. Plus, the fourth Chrome Moxen would drop down to 19 lands and make too many hands unkeepable. The Ancient Tombs quickly turned into City of Traitors to keep your life total higher. You only want to drop that land to power a quick Garruk, Baloth or a lategame Death Cloud, so it was fine to play it last. It will generally be your third land played; in only one game did I drop it early because I wasn’t manascrewed. That game I had a fairly nutty turn 1 land, turn 2 Mox, City, Garruk, Tarmogoyf. Yeah, I won that game.

The 4 Pernicious Deed 2 Damnation from the original list was right and stayed. I kept 4 Smother for a long time, but the first indication of a change was the difficulty the deck had with Vedalken Shackles. You generally have the mana for Putrefy, and the card also steps around Counterbalance, which came up occasionally against Threshold. The other two Smother quickly became Diabolic Edicts to help deal with UGW Threshold. Sometimes they lead with a Nimble Mongoose, give it Threshold and keep Baloths off the table. Having Edict instead of Smother helps. I suggest 2 Diabolic Edict 2 Putrefy, but I strongly encourage you to change the four slots to accommodate the local metagame. I would consider Shriekmaw, Smother, Ghastly Demise (Doug Linn assures me it’s spelled DeMIZE), Putrefy, Diabolic Edict and Chainer’s Edict valid options.

The deck is devilishly difficult to play. The two most important decisions are how to play Death Cloud and how to activate Garruk Wildspeaker. Against an opponent with Death Cloud, I will generally fire Death Cloud if I will be better off afterwards than them. My criteria are to hit all their lands and every card in their hand, and as long as I have something afterwards. Because most decks in Legacy have fewer mana sources than this deck, you are almost guaranteed to recover faster, especially if you have a few lands or Chrome Moxen left afterwards. The best situation for you is to have a Garruk in play. Garruk will get you to a bigger Death Cloud, and stick around afterwards. I do not think I have ever lost after clearing the board and hands except for a Garruk in play. Remember that you do not have to fire off a lethal, end of game Death Cloud. Whenever I have Death Cloud in my hand, I am constantly looking to get more lands in play than them and to fire off a small Cloud to gain some advantage. I have even used it at one to kill a creature and get one land, just to set them back. Sometimes you can use Death Cloud in this fashion as a Diabolic Edict to clear the way for Tarmogoyf.

Once you get Garruk into play, your main concern is almost always just protecting Garruk. If you keep a Garruk in play, you basically win against every non-combo opponent. Protecting a planeswalker is much harder in Legacy than Extended because of the existence of Swords to Plowshares. Playing Garruk and making a Beast right away is not always the best plan. You only lose Garruk to “End of Turn Swords to Plowshares your Beast, untap and swing with Mishra’s Factory” once before you learn. Unless you’ve seen their hand, you almost always want to act as if they have Swords to Plowshares and make sure Garruk can survive their attack. I also rarely will remove the last counter from Garruk to overrun because it is far too easy for most opponents to thwart that attack with removal. The exception is when I have another Garruk. The Legend rule applies to Planeswalkers: a second Garruk will kill both of them, unless you remove all the counters from the first one. That has helped me a few times, but generally it is cuter than it is useful. If I have extra Garruks I usually hold onto them. The only thing better than forcing your opponent to trade multiple cards for Garruk is to force them to do that and play another Garruk. Two points of caution. The first is that an opposing Wasteland can target City of Traitors in response to the Garruk trigger, so plan around that. Generally though if your opponent will Wasteland City, they will do it before you start tapping it. And remember, Garruk’s Beasts play well with Ravenous Baloth. And remember, Garruk is neither a creature, enchantment nor artifact, so Pernicious Deed, Nevinyrral’s Disk, Crime//Punishment, and Powder Keg do not affect it. Engineered Explosives, however, does.

The matchups for this deck are much like a traditional Rock deck’s. You are pretty even across the board; rarely are you way ahead or way behind, except that you start pretty behind against the non-creature based combo decks. This is a deck that wins on two factors: metagaming and inevitability. If you build your sideboard properly, you are unbeatable. The deck also favors matchups that go long because in the late game, Death Cloud is basically unstoppable against the land light decks of Legacy. Any deck that does not put any sort of pressure on you early is going to lose to Garruk into Death Cloud.

The Threshold matchup is close, but it slightly favors you. It gets much better if they do not have Mystic Enforcers, or if they only have one. Threshold can only beat you in one of two ways. More commonly they land an early Nimble Mongoose, give it Threshold and remove all your blockers and counter your spells until you lose. The second way they beat you is by getting a Mystic Enforcer out and killing you before you can find an answer. Sometimes you have to Damnation away just a Mongoose, so sometimes Enforcer catches you with your pants down. Diabolic Edict solves both these plans, so if you see a lot of Threshold you might want to run 4 for removal. All your creatures can deal with a Nimble Mongoose, and you have plenty of ways to deal with a Tarmogoyf.
Postboard you have a few options here, depending on how much sideboard space you have. I have seen Withered Wretch do a lot of damage to Threshold by shutting down all their creatures. If you expect Threshold to sideboard out Counterbalance, this can be a good option. Withered Wretch may earn a place in the sideboard anyway. You should also look at running Perish to complement Damnation, and possibly even Possessed Centaur. Of these, Centaur is the cutest, but Perish is the most effective because it can stop Enforcers. Depending on their colors, you will probably board out the Sakura-Tribe Elders and some of the less effective removals If they are running finishers like Sea Drake that die to Putrefy, obviously don’t bring it out.

You have up to 12 cards you can sideboard against the combo decks, depending on how much of a problem they are for you in the metagame. Game 1 I have found it to be rocky because you only have 4 Thoughtseize. At a minimum you will want to sideboard 4 Duress. You have tons of maindeck answers to Empty the Warrens; leave Deed in post-board but feel free to cut the spot removal and Damnations. I do not think TES is still running Tomb of Urami, which is a pity because you are so prepared for it.

You are way ahead against Life from the Loam decks. Devastating Dreams is really bad for you (it can wreck your lands and kill Garruk), but most decks do not run it, and you have plenty of time to remove it with Thoughtseize. Most of the time these decks are slow enough that you play as a Death Cloud combo deck. They are counting on keeping their board full and spending all their mana on Life from the Loam. If you Death Cloud away all their lands, they will not be able to find enough to recast Life from the Loam. Post board I like to have access to a mix of Extirpate and Withered Wretch. If you Extirpate Loams, you often reduce them to a bad aggro deck. I like Withered Wretch to help remove Genesises and deal with Academy Ruins and Volrath’s Stronghold. For these I cut some of the spot removal and Damnations or Pernicious Deeds depending on the opponent’s build.

Survival of the Fittest can be easy like Loam decks, or it can be a pain. You almost always get a chance to remove Survival of the Fittest with Thoughtseize, and Pernicious Deed can very easily punish them for overcommitting. The problem is when they get Survival of the Fittest and you don’t follow with a quick Pernicious Deed. The builds with heavy red commitment can trade Squees for Flametongue Kavus for your Tarmogoyfs, which is grossly unfair. I board similarly here to Loam decks; I want Extirpate to keep them from topdecking Survivals, and I want Wretches to remove Genesis.

You are also ahead versus Ichorid, which makes sense based on the way things progressed in Extended. Game 1 it is rough, but you have Thoughtseize to hit a key card and eight creatures that happily jump into the graveyard. You have enough removal to beat both the “Dread Return a huge creature” and the “Make lots of Zombies” plans. Post-board you will generally have Extirpate and Withered Wretch in your board, and those cards are good here.

This is the first deck where I have really hesitated to post a sideboard. This deck needs to be metagamed pretty significantly based on your local meta. Where I may want extra Damnations and Diabolic Edicts to deal with Affinity and Dragon Stompy, your metagame may be infested with Survival decks and Landstill and you want Krosan Grip or Duress. Generally I think you are drawing from these cards to build your sideboard:

Hymn to Tourach
Withered Wretch
Possessed Centaur
Diabolic Edict
Krosan Grip
Death Cloud #4

You might look at these cards in Shadowmoor to flesh out the deck:

Beseech the Queen: I don’t know if the deck needs a tutor effect, but for BBB you’ll be able to find any card in the deck. Then again, no one is considering Grim Tutor now, and that is basically the same effect.

Dusk Urchins: For three mana you get a 4/3, and you’ll get a few cards from it later. Generally I think you need your creatures to be more dependable than that since they need to win the game, but it might find a home.

Oona, Queen of the Fae: Probably not worth it, because she’s black and loses to Mystic Enforcer, but I am highly enthralled to the idea of EOT Oona makes a dozen guys, untap and Death Cloud away all the guys, leaving me with a 5/5 flyer.

Vexing Shusher {R/G} {R/G}
Creature – Goblin Shaman
Vexing Shusher can’t be countered by spells or abilities.
{R/G}: Target spell can’t be countered by spells or abilities.

Shusher is one of the most exciting cards for the deck because it blanks 8+ cards against Landstill or Threshold. Sure, it’s only a 2/2 for 2, but it means they need to kill it or you are bound to get Garruk + Cloud and win the game. I would definitely get my hands on a few and sideboard them.

Sapseed Forest: You’ll still have six basic lands even if you run one of these. I think you want to in most metagames, because it is almost all upside. You can’t support the black one, but we don’t know what it is yet.

So that’s Death Cloud. The most powerful removal cards in the game, except for Swords to Plowshares, packed in a highly consistent frame, and add nougat. I think you should seriously consider the deck; it has the potential to just wreck people because most decks do not have a plan to deal with its power. I’ve been having a lot of success with it in testing, so I encourage you to try it.

Kevin Binswanger
[email protected]