Unlocking Legacy – Extending a Hand

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Tuesday, March 25th – In the last few weeks, a wealth of information has exploded onto the Magic scene. Unfortunately, not much of this is Legacy info. Fortunately, it’s Extended info, and never before have two formats resembled each other as much as Legacy and Extended do this season. I firmly believe that the parallels between the two formats can be used to uncover technology that may have been overlooked by the people focusing on one format, but not the other.

In the last few weeks, a wealth of information has exploded onto the Magic scene. Unfortunately, not much of this is Legacy info. Fortunately, it’s Extended info, and never before have two formats resembled each other as much as Legacy and Extended do this season. I firmly believe that the parallels between the two formats can be used to uncover technology that may have been overlooked by the people focusing on one format, but not the other.

Last week, as I’m sure most of you know, brought a pair of Extended Grand Prix events to us, on two separate continents. To my relatively untrained eye, I must admit two things are apparent. First, the respective Top 8’s of the two events are eerily familiar, and second, I don’t find myself particularly surprised because of it. The combination of Onslaught Fetchlands, along with as close an approximation of Dual Lands as we’ve seen since Revised, allows an alarmingly large amount of options to be viable in the format — something we as Legacy players are quite used to. At the same time, the cards that are currently dominating the Legacy metagame — Tarmogoyf, Counterbalance, Sensei’s Divining Top, Thoughtseize, Pernicious Deed, etc. — are doing just as much damage in the Extended metagame. In fact, the idea that the two formats are converging is a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more they converge, the more the strategies which are successful will resemble each other.

Today, I’d like to take a look at those strategies, compare them across the formats with respect to what works where and why, and make some suggestions that could be used in both formats to capitalize on the knowledge base shared between Legacy and Extended.

The Levels of Blue

LSV’s deck resembles, in a very significant way, the Threshold decks that make up the upper tier of the Legacy metagame. With the exception of the cards unavailable in Extended – Nimble Mongoose, Daze, Brainstorm, etc. — the deck relies on many of the same concepts that serve Thresh so well. The concept of throwing out a beater like Tarmogoyf, and then outpacing your opponent in tempo along the way to a few quick swings, is something Legacy is used to at this point. We’ve seen it since before the Goyf was printed, back when Werebears were beating up on opponents. What LSV’s deck does that Threshold doesn’t is run up the curve a bit, into the three mana range, to maindeck a plethora of Control Magic effects. We’ve seen folks run Vedalken Shackles in Thresh before; however, there aren’t a lot of Threshold decks running it maindeck, and none alongside Threads. I think the main reason this is true lies in the presence of Nimble Mongoose. Arguably the second best Green man ever printed, he renders most of these effects null. The second reason the cards see less play is simply Swords to Plowshares. The existence of such an efficient form of removal allows the aggro-control players the ability to simply remove the threat from the board (permanently), rather than worry about stealing it, and potentially allowing your opponent a window to take it back at some point. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Shackles. It’s an amazing source of card advantage, and has a tendency to swing games around. I’m just not certain thresh can afford such a focus on winning the red zone in Legacy, since a) the stack is where the real battles are fought, and b) they’re naturally a good deal ahead in the red zone vs. most of the field.

The card that stands out to me the most in LSV’s deck, and I must say I’m in love with the idea, is Miren, the Moaning Well. I think it’s absolutely phenomenal that he uses the card both to combat Dredge, and to make use of his opponent’s stolen creatures once they’ve served their purpose. Using it on my opponents’ guys just seems nasty to me. I intend to see if I can squeak it into one of my many attempts at control decks. Coming soon…

I’m curious to know how much testing has been done in Extended with the cantripping style of Legacy Thresh. Extended has cards like Ponder and Telling Time, which are both passable cantrips that interact well with Counterbalance. I think, however, the lack of “free” counterspell effects like Daze and Force of Will obligates them to rely more on open mana than their Legacy counterparts. Since Wizards is less enthusiastic about instant speed cantrips these days than they have been in the past, it’s more difficult to filter the deck in Extended while retaining access to counterspells, other than Counterbalance.

That’s No Moon…

Another thing I’m contemplating is how Extended gets away with such terrible manabases. In Legacy, the presence of Wasteland is ever in our minds. Losing to Waste is simply unacceptable, and for the most part, we’re forced to time our Fetchlands to leave the least vulnerability to the card as possible. This reliance on Fetchlands, strangely enough, leaves Legacy wide open to Blood Moon effects. This has been capitalized on in a few ways, most recently by Red-splash Threshold (Moon Thresh, as it’s referred to) and a Red Chalice Aggro deck known as Dragon Stompy. It seems to me that these strategies would have some merit in Extended as well, as the manabases in that format are just as fetch/dual based as those of Legacy, with the added benefit of shutting down the Tron decks that have such a formidable presence.

The sideboard of this deck includes the third and fourth Blood Moons, as well as a single Magus of the Moon. This build can play the typical thresh game, or it can drop a Moon effect and effectively shut the opponent down while beating with undercosted creatures. For the most part, the presence of the Blood Moon on the table severely limits the opponent’s ability to reliably answer whatever threat you drop, and provides ample time for you to win the game while they attempt to solve the Moon. Here’s an attempt at porting this deck to Extended (caveat — I claim no knowledge of the implicit strength of any suggested Extended decks in this article. I am not an Extended expert. This is not Unlocking Extended):

This deck uses many of the same principles that Moon Thresh does, attempting to capitalize on the high number of non-basic lands that are used in the format, using the opponent’s manabase against them, while maintaining the ability to function under your own Moon effects.

Replacing Draws with Wins

Arguably the most powerful deck in Extended, Dredge put up 4 slots in the Top 8 of GP Vienna this weekend. It was extremely effective in the blue-based metagame present at this event, and the pilots of the deck have the records to support that. As the deck can function almost entirely without the use of spells, it’s difficult for the decks based on countering spells to effectively control the deck the way they can more traditional strategies. Here’s one of the lists from Vienna:

Since Extended has the distinction of being the breeding grounds of the original Ichorid deck, there isn’t much I can offer it from the perspective of a Legacy player. We, in Legacy, have access to a more explosive version, due to the legality of Lion’s Eye Diamond, however that version is much more susceptible to inconsistent draws and going “all in” and getting shut down by counterspells. It also loses to itself on occasion, which at this point cannot be helped. The availability of Deep Analysis assists in preventing this, but it’s difficult to win with that card alone. At the same time, Legacy Dredge has a rough matchup with decks like Goblins that can reliably put men from play to the grave, and it doesn’t always win the race against Combo, either. With all these strikes against it, not to mention the Extirpates, Tormod’s Crypts, and Leyline of the Voids in the sideboards of Legacy decks to combat other matchups, Dredge gets far less love in Legacy than it does in Extended. Still, perhaps the success of the deck in the face of all the same hate can tell us something. Perhaps it’s worth forgoing the explosive nature of the deck to make a more consistent deck. Can Legacy Dredge benefit more from a few more land and access to Tolarian Winds than it can from LED?

It’s an Acronym, dammit!

Mind’s Desire. HOO BOY, do I wish we could play that card in Legacy. Still, even without that most bombtastic of all storm spells, the “Perfect Storm” principle does quite well in Legacy. During the development of TES, and its parallel development in extended in TEPS, we utilized many of the same principles in both decks to arrive at the lists you see today. There are a few differences, of course. As TES is generally the faster deck, it can’t use cards like Lotus Bloom to any real effect, since the goal is to win before that card would come online. Any additional Lotus Blooms mid-combo are also ineffective, since we don’t get to play them for free off of Desire copies. On the other hand, we get Lion’s Eye Diamond, which makes Infernal Tutor a ridiculously effective tutor, but it’s nigh unplayable in the Extended version. I’m glad to see the Extended decks have picked up on Plunge into Darkness, although I’m unconvinced it’s the best use of that slot. It may be better served as an additional slot for protection, such as Orim’s Chant — especially as the format seems to be heading more and more blue.

I’m not sure why the TEPS decks have forgone the use of Sins of the Past; when I was working on the deck last season, that card won me many games I had no business winning. It provided a significant threat vs. decks with hand disruption, and allowed me to combo without the reliance on the Chromatic effects — you could effectively combo out with black and red mana if your Desires found their way to the graveyard through some effect of your own or your opponent’s. Granted, this was prior to the printing of Extirpate, which could be a significant reason to remove that vulnerability. Frustrating. That card stifles more of my creative juices than any other card in existence.

For Those About to Rock

Philly was won by Gerard Fabiano on the power of Pernicious Deed paired with efficient hand disruption. These are the basic principles of any Rock deck, but featuring significantly better creatures than have been available in the past. On the weekend before Philly, Geoff Smelski won a 40 person Legacy event in Western Massachusetts with a strikingly similar take on the archetype, with a few twists. Here are the lists to compare side by side:

With the exception of card legality and a splash for Brainstorm (which Geoff and I agree is hands down the best card in Legacy), the decks are strikingly similar. The major difference is Geoff’s choice to not run Deed, which he justified by its vulnerabilities to Pithing Needle, Stifle, and Krosan Grip. At the same time, he still ran Crime/Punishment, which is effectively a more flexible Engineered Explosives in his deck. I saw at least one occasion where he utilized the Crime side, stealing a Survival player’s Genesis to shut off recursion. Even with these changes, the strategy is very similar, and contributes yet another example of the similarities between the formats. This style of deck has an extremely effective strategy vs. the control and aggro-control decks that currently comprise the major players in both Legacy and Extended, and represents an excellent metagame choice for anyone walking into an event expected to be heavy in those decks.

We’ve Got Spirit

The most interesting deck of either tournament to me was Matt Hansen’s Spirit Stompy. The deck takes its name from the spirits needed to turn on Tallowisp’s ability, tutoring up an aura that provides you with significant threats when put on the spirit you played to find it. It’s best combo is between Phantom Centaur and Armadillo Cloak, which effectively creates a lifelinked creature completely immune to combat damage.

I can’t help but imagine the possibilities Tallowisp brings to legacy, based on the expanded range of Auras available in the format. Pattern of Rebirth seems like a good starting point. Go forth, fellow Legacy Johnnies, and create some ban-able combo with Tallowisp!

And there we are for this month. With all the info and innovation they’re doing in Extended, there has to be something we can rip off and call our own. The rotating formats are there for a reason — they give us a wealth of information on viable decks that will eventually be Legacy legal only. At the same time, perhaps we can shed some light on the Extended game, and maybe we’ll see some familiar lists traversing the rotation in the other direction. My bet is on Blood Moon. Until next time, have fun with spirits and auras, and remember — keep your stick on the ice.