Unlocking Legacy – Elf Survival

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Thursday, January 8th – Hello everyone, and Happy 2009! It’s a pleasure to be back in the driver’s seat, writing for you all as we head on toward the third American Legacy Grand Prix, and hopefully I’ll provide you all a little insight into the format before that event to help you choose your deck wisely.

Hello everyone, and Happy 2009! It’s a pleasure to be back in the driver’s seat, writing for you all as we head on toward the third American Legacy Grand Prix, and hopefully I’ll provide you all a little insight into the format before that event to help you choose your deck wisely.

It’s been a while since I’ve written an article for this column, and in all honesty, it’s been a rather nice break. In the time I’ve taken away from Unlocking Legacy, I’ve spent the majority of my Magic time focusing on my Limited skills, drafting countless packs of Shards of Alara, as well as Cube drafting with friends and teammates. I think my overall skill as a player has improved, so if you’re looking for the same, I strongly recommend you all head out to FNM in your area and start drafting.

Meanwhile, the Legacy metagame continues to stump me. I simply have not figured it out. It’s a constant source of frustration for me, to the point of me openly whining about it to friends. I’m certain they’re all sick of hearing it by now. The issue is, the metagame is simply too open. There are too many viable decks in the Legacy format these days, and trying to accurately predict the decks you’ll see, even at the top tables, of a six- or seven-round event is near impossible.

This weekend in Syracuse, NY, an event was held that drew about 80 players for top prize of 2 Beta Tundras. I decided that with the format as open as it is, my best bet was to play Storm Combo, for two reasons. First, Ad Nauseam is broken. It’s effectively Yawgmoth’s Bargain, unrestricted and in full force. Second, it manages to render about half to two thirds of the format irrelevant, because if you aren’t playing Blue cards, Chalice of the Void, or combo, you’re in for a hell of a fight. I played the same list that Bryant Cook placed third with at the same event. Even with my overall metagame predictions intact — which meant I would see a lot of Threshold, a lot of Dreadtill, and a lot of the new Team America deck — I was still willing to bet that I would already be set up in the X-0 bracket by the time I saw them.

Instead, Round 1 I was paired with the combo mirror. I led with Duress, with a turn 2 win hand, and sighed as my opponent showed me a turn 1 Ad Nauseam with double Lion’s Eye Diamond. I took the Ad Nauseam, and passed. He drew Infernal Tutor and won. Game 2 followed suit, with me Pondering on turn 1, and him dropping 2x LED again, and passing with Mystical Tutor in hand, which found Pact of Negation to stop my Orim’s Chant. Just like that, I head to the 0-1 bracket.

Round 2, before play began I asked my opponent what he lost to. He said Black threshold, and I assumed the worst. He led with 2x LED and a land, with a Mystical in hand. Mystical set him up for a draw step Ad Nauseam, and we moved things along. Game 2 was a battle of Orim’s Chants, in which I drew three to his two, allowing me the win. Game 3, I resolved a turn 1 Ad Nauseam with no mana floating, and went to two life without finding an LED, a Lotus Petal, or a Red card other than a single Burning Wish. I ended up using Chain of Vapor to bounce two Chrome Moxen, in order to get the Black mana and Blue mana I needed to Brainstorm. Brainstorm found me Tendrils of Agony to go with the Ritual effects from Ad Nauseam. It was one of the more complex plays I’ve made with the deck, but it got there, albeit the hard way.

Round 3 I found myself paired with a local player with Black Threshold, maindecking Spell Snare. It’s basically the nightmare matchup for TES, and I wasn’t expecting much. However, when he opened with Trop into Mongoose, and I ran headlong into counterspell after counterspell, it was basically over before it started. He countered no less than five separate attempts to go off in this game. Game 2, I led with land, Chant, Petal, 3x Dark Ritual, Infernal Tutor. I couldn’t get Ill-Gotten Gains, as I’d be a mana short for tutoring and playing Tendrils after the loop. I got Ad Nauseam, and drew about 20 cards, going to two. In those 20 cards, my optimal play was to play some mana, Brainstorm, and play a Vexing Shusher to block. How lucky. The next turn, I Duressed, seeing and taking Force of Will, and then Ill-Gotten Gains-ed returning Burning Wish and rituals. If he attempted to counter any of the spells, I had the mana to use Shusher, and planned to Empty the Warrens for about 10 on the following turn. Versus his hand of counters, and board of land, Mongoose, it would usually succeed. He untapped, drew Blue Elemental Blast, killed my Shusher, and I lose.

It was a pretty miserable showing on my part. I’ve had my fair share of luck when I needed it, so I can’t knock it when my opponents do the same, but I felt like I was never really in the majority of my games. Looking back, out of the seven games of Magic I played, I saw zero Lion’s Eye Diamonds, while in the first three games alone, my opponents opened with two on turn 1 in each game. In my attempts to invalidate a percentage of the format, I instead went 50/50 with the mirror, which is pretty normal, and lost to a bad matchup. It happens. Given the same pairings though, I can’t help but wonder how things would have gone had I played a different deck. If I played Counterbalance Thresh, the combo decks would have played out much differently. If I had played Survival, I may not have seen round 3.

Alright, to prevent this article from becoming a giant complaint-fest, I want to change gears and discuss a deck that’s been worked on quite a bit lately by Colin Chilbert (Diablos, or Di on the Source), the deckbuilding mind behind the majority of the decks I’ve discussed in my portion of this column. Colin is arguably the most experienced Survival of the Fittest player in the game, and has easily done more work on the archetype than any other Legacy regular. This time, he’s taken the deck’s shell in a completely different direction, displayed here in his decklist from the same tournament this weekend, where he finished in the Top 8:

The basic “broken” part of the deck lies in the three-part combo of Wirewood Symbiote, Priest of Titania, and Mirror Entity. It plays out like this:

With all three parts of the combo in play, tap 1 mana to activate Mirror Entity for 1.
Tap Priest for 3 (or more) mana, as all creatures you control are Elves.
Activate Symbiote, returning itself (since it is now an elf) to your hand, and untapping Priest.
Replay the Symbiote.
Activate the Mirror Entity for one to make Symbiote an elf again.
Repeat, netting one green mana each time you loop.
Activate the Mirror Entity for an arbitrarily large amount of mana, and attack your opponent for a gajillion.

Note that the entirety of the combo is accessible by Survival. This plan is a great go-to in many matchups; however, each of the pieces are strong on their own. Priest generates an absurd amount of mana, allowing you to shoot out of the gates and get an early man advantage. Mirror Entity often allows you to simply race your opponent, as you will almost always have more men on board than your opponent. Wirewood is excellent at both saving your creatures from removal, as well as reusing Sylvan Messengers to generate card advantage, or returning a Mana Elf when you need a creature to pitch to Survival.

The other strength in the deck is in its access to 8 Lords — the four Champions and four Perfects. Each has its own strengths, but both create an army of large creatures which often outclass even Tarmogoyf. With the prevalence of that creature in Legacy, Forestwalk is more relevant than it ever has been before. Likewise, having access to infinite blockers through the use of Perfect’s ability allows you to play defense while setting up the win.

The combination of the Wren’s Run Vanquishers and the Wren’s Run Packmasters allow you to make favorable trades with practically every creature in the format. Even Phyrexian Dreadnaughts have to think twice before attacking into a board of a Packmaster and three open mana. Until moments before the event, the list also included a singleton Thornweald Archer, which has the ability to shut down Tombstalkers and Mystic Enforcers when needed.

This build has been constructed in such a way that it is very reliable, even without a Survival in play. This is a weakness that has plagued combo-esque Survival builds in the past, so to discover one here which is largely unphased by this issue is an exciting step for the archetype. Because of the inherent backup plan in turning Green men sideways, it plays much differently than other decks like Full English Breakfast, which included many cards that were effectively dead without a Survival in play. Additionally, this build has chosen not to play the traditional “Silver Bullet” package of Squee, Goblin Nabob and Genesis, along with Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary and Masticore. While these are all staples of the more traditional Survival of the Fittest lists, really, the Survivals are in this deck in a much more ancillary role than we’re used to seeing from a deck like this.

In the list of matchups where this deck excels, you can add basically any form of Threshold, and most other decks containing a lot of Islands. It’s also the dominant Aggro deck in most aggressive mirrors. The redundancy of threats, and the 8 lords go a long way to making your men outclass your opponents by a large margin. I watched Colin play a few matches through the day (usually from the opponent’s perspective), and I noted that very often, the threat of Elvish Champion alone forced his opponents to keep Tropical Islands in their hands, until they either had removal for the Champion, or needed to run out a Tarmogoyf. Anytime you can force your opponent to play your game that way, you’re in a much better position than they want you to be.

As you can probably tell from the prevalence of Green cards in the deck, the most difficult matchup for the deck is Storm Combo. It is for this reason that the Thorns, Chants, and Gaddock Teeg are in the board. Colin chose before the event to find room for the three Elvish Spirit Guides in the maindeck in order to more easily facilitate a turn 1 Thorn or Teeg, but they also allow you to more easily play around Daze, and to secure turn 1 Survivals. It’s still a hotly debated slot in the list, but performed amicably throughout the day, and in testing.

All in all, the deck is strong, it has its share of favorable matchups — just like every other reasonably powerful deck in the format — and it seems to have, at the very least, the potential to be a contender in Legacy. Between the old stand-by of Goblins, the new Elves builds — both combo and aggro versions — and the disruptive Merfolk lists popping up here and there, Legacy has an interesting sub-current of tribal goodness going for it these days.

That’s all I’ve got for this week, folks. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you back here soon! Until then, keep your stick on the ice!