Tarmogoyf. Counterbalance. Intuition. Life from the Loam. Pernicious Deed. Demigod of Revenge. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles. I didn’t intend much with the Demigod of Revenge deck but it became, I think, premier combo-control deck in Legacy because of the multiple avenues of both attack and defense.
Dan Spero says that I don’t write articles that go very in-depth on decks, and to a certain extent, it’s true. When he said that I went back and checked; I’ve been playing the same deck for three months (except for some time spent on Tezzeret Stax) and it was all I ever talked about online. Sure enough, I never wrote anything comprehensive on the Demigod of Revenge deck. Time to fix that.
When I see something interesting or a friend gives me an idea, my process consists of trying lots of wacky ideas until I either fall in love with something or have to throw everything out because nothing is consistent or powerful enough to win. I have found that I can either design the core of a new idea or I can take an existing deck and find some powerful tweaks that make it better, but I have trouble doing both. Consequently a lot of the decks I present in this column are decks I designed that are exciting and have potential. Realistically Legacy has more deck shells in need of development work than can possibly be explored in any reasonable amount of time, and not all of them will stand up to muster. A large part of what I want to do in this column is present the beginnings and middles of decks; they are not all completely tuned, but they definitely have potential. One of my main goals is to give cool deck ideas to players in the hopes that somebody reads an article, sees a cool deck, takes it and changes some cards so they can go and win their local tournament.
That’s not my goal today though. I’ve mentioned the Demigod of Revenge deck a few times, but I really feel like I never did this deck justice. The basic evolution of the deck was covered in this previous article; I wanted to take the then-strongest Blue control deck and innovate it around its primary weakness which at the time was Dragon Stompy. I ended up taking the deck from a board control deck with a minor counterspell suite to a board control deck with multiple combo elements. Take Counterbalance-Top to beat decks that pose a threat and just run enough removal to shut everybody else down.
- 3 Sensei's Divining Top
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Force of Will
- 2 Diabolic Edict
- 1 Smother
- 3 Intuition
- 1 Gifts Ungiven
- 1 Vedalken Shackles
- 2 Pernicious Deed
- 1 Engineered Explosives
- 1 Life from the Loam
- 4 Counterbalance
- 1 Raven's Crime
The eight fetchlands are obligatory, as are the three basics. The second Island is somewhat questionable but it is nice to draw in your opening hand occasionally. The basic Swamp is awesome and I would just run all Polluted Deltas. I would really love to get the basic Forest in the deck, but unlike previous Pernicious Deed/Counterbalance decks, you absolutely need all your lands to be able to fetch a basic Island. Vorosh’s plan against Blood Moon was to hope to get lucky and somehow string Tarmogoyfs together through a basic Forest and win. This deck has an actual plan that only requires the basic Island and Intuition; consequently you absolutely need to be able to fetch that basic.
I have 4 Tropical Island-type cards and am strongly contemplating the 5th. Most of the time the Green count is fine, but sometimes you want to fetch out a basic Island against a potential Wasteland and then just never find the Green source. The problem with balancing the mana is that, Raven’s Crime/Loam considerations aside, your Green mana requirements are far more than your Black mana requirements, but the three Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth are required. They just make Demigod too good not to run them. I have not played enough matches to strongly recommend it, but you might consider -1 Underground Sea +1 Tropical Island.
A lot of people criticize the Breeding Pool, but I feel that it’s very important. Because of fetchlands and how rarely you do anything turn 1, most of the time the Breeding Pool’s drawback is irrelevant. On the upside, you absolutely require access to Green mana in this deck. It would be a huge shame to get unlucky and meet the turn 1 Wasteland, turn 2 Extirpate your green sources and be reduced to just Demigods + hope to draw Urborg against those decks.
The singletons are all pretty obvious. Having access to Academy Ruins and Volrath’s Stronghold will both prove invaluable. They Wasteland opponents sometimes, and have tremendous upsides. Plus it is very comforting in some board positions just to have a Legendary Land in play and know that there is no risk of you drawing out, especially when it comes to fighting over Standstill or dredging up Demigods. I once won a game where I literally dredged and Topped to the last card in my library, just to put a Demigod on top of my library and bash somebody for 15. On an open board, getting Wasteland recursion can absolutely shut some decks down. The weakest land is the single Lonely Sandbar. Most of the time it cycles away or gets played as a dinky Island. There are enough opportunities where being able to dredge twice a turn, or to dredge Life from the Loam and still draw off Volrath’s Stronghold. The problem is that all of a sudden you have eight non-Islands that makes it difficult to use Vedalken Shackles on a Tombstalker. If you find yourself having mana issues, consider cutting a Diabolic Edict or the Lonely Sandbar for the last Tropical Island.
Originally I wanted 4 Intuition, but the decklist has a singleton Gifts Ungiven instead of the fourth Intuition. Besides being a cheap ploy to get Vintage players interested in the deck (Hi BrassMan!), the Gifts Ungiven is sometimes really awesome. If you have the time to cast the slightly more expensive spell it is almost better. Now you no longer have to choose between setting up Raven’s Crime + Urborg and Academy Ruins recursion. Gifts Ungiven is also randomly a four-mana spell to counter oddball spells like Goblin Charbelcher. The biggest problem is that about one in every six Intuitions goes for a stack that includes duplicates, mainly Demigods. Gifts is one of the slowest cards and often gets sideboarded out in faster matchups.
I like to run a mix of removal spells because different ones are good in different matchups. It makes the deck less consistent but it means that you can never have no outs to a given board situation. Diabolic Edicts are better against Nimble Mongeese and Rakdos Pit-Dragons, but they are decidedly less awesome when an opponent sacrifices a used Goblin Matron instead of the Goblin Warchief you wanted to aim for.
Pernicious Deed and Vedalken Shackles especially are about 80% the same card. Pernicious Deed is more useful at removing problem children like Counterbalance and Survival of the Fittest, but Vedalken Shackles can actually win the game after you stabilize. Vedalken Shackles is also far cheaper when you are digging deep with Top or putting things on top with Academy Ruins; it only costs 5 no matter what you grab. Good luck ever Deeding away a Tombstalker or Siege-Gang Commander before you are dead.
Because the mix can be eclectic, I will try to point out in which matchups which removal spells are better.
Demigod of Revenge is the most controversial card in the deck, mainly because of its mana requirements. With the addition of the second and third Urborgs, Demigod is now even fine on its own. Many of the games Demigod wins, Tarmogoyf plus careful play could probably win anyway. I have always been a fan of the flying trump creatures in Tarmogoyf matchups; I ran Mystic Enforcer in Threshold and I run Demigod in this deck. Against similar decks you run into these awkward ground stalls where each player has Tarmogoyfs and nobody can attack profitably. Rather than awkwardly try and remove their Goyfs and make small attacks, you can now just draw to the big flyer and win. Vorosh, a similar Pernicious Deed deck developed by Dan Spero and previously championed by me, had this awkward problem where all its plans were shut down by a single opposing Tarmogoyf. Even if you have your own to keep the ground stalled, all the strategies like Standstill and Mishra’s Factory just get shut down. (As an aside, did anyone ever consider Cabal Pit in those decks to be a non-spell solution to opposing Goyfs under standstill?).
But if Demigod were just a 5/4 flyer for its mana, it would probably be terrible. Haste is very nice; it can throw off the opposing combat math. Sometimes you just draw Urborg and multiple Demigods; the opponent basically never wins those games unless they have multiple Sower of Temptation or they kill you before you can cast them.
The deck plays as a board control deck until it can randomly combo out either with Counterbalance–Sensei’s Divining Top lock, Life from the Loam fueled Raven’s Crime/Wasteland lock, or just putting fifteen hasty damage in the sky.
Counterbalance/Sensei’s Divining Top is the best strategy in Legacy. It is so incredibly powerful, and I wish I had room for the 4th Divining Top. When you land Counterbalance, you really want to play like a control deck; you never want to tap out. Your goals are to maximize untapped mana and cards in hand. Hardcast Force when it does not leave you completely open, and never tap mana on your own turn. In the matchups where Counterbalance is relevant you will win off Counterbalance advantage alone, so if you just do not tap below Top mana you cannot lose. When Topping you want to draw lands and keep two-mana spells on top. When possible you want to draw Blue spells, especially Force of Will and float anything else. When a player gets Counterbalance for more than a turn, the game will slow dramatically. If you really need Smother or Tarmogoyf, you will have time to draw it. You especially want to horde Brainstorms and Counterbalances. The biggest morale crusher is for an opponent to spend all their effort removing your Counterbalance just to drop another.
When you do not have Sensei’s Divining Top out, you need to become the picture of confidence. The opponent’s entire plan here contracts to two goals: Stop you from landing Sensei’s Divining Top and bait with junk spells in order to land a decent clock. For the first, if you find Top, play it. Duh. The important thing is to present a moving target. You want to save your Brainstorms and fetchlands until you can actually counter a spell with them. The opponent’s entire goal here is to get you to reveal the top card of your library as a land and then play all their spells. The triggered ability on Counterbalance is optional, so it is often the right call in this situation to not reveal a card on the opponent’s useless cantrips. You still want to leave as much mana available as possible to bluff Force of Will and Brainstorm. When playing without Sensei’s Divining Top you want to give the opponent the illusion that their board situation will improve with time; you have to do whatever you can to make them hesitate. Then you draw Top, slam it on the table and win easily.
When you draw Intuition the deck actually plays like a combo deck. Part of the difficulty in this mode is that you are often moving all in on the Loam set-up. The deck has the tools to win almost every situation but if you screw up (as I have done more than a few times), there is little more for error. In this mode your ideal play sequence is turn 1 Sensei’s Divining Top (as always), turn 2 any spell to draw out a counter, turn 3 Intuition. Here you are always going to get Life from the Loam, but the other two cards depend on the situation. If the board is close to being stalled I prefer to get Raven’s Crime and either Wasteland or Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. If you do not have enough Black sources to cast Raven’s Crime at least twice each turn, you need the Urborg. If you do you can get another disruptive card, generally the Wasteland. Generally just taking two cards each turn and making a land drop is enough to lock up most games. If it isn’t, each turn you dredge 3 cards deeper into your deck; eventually you can just end the game by putting Vedalken Shackles or Demigod of Revenge on top of your library. The Wasteland is nice because it closes the door on the opponent’s only out: topdecking a giant threat. There are two main other Intuition piles; Volrath’s Stronghold + Shriekmaw, and Academy Ruins + Vedalken Shackles. Engineered Explosives is nice to have but I rarely tutor it up.
The nice thing about Gifts Ungiven and Intuition is how much better they get once you draw some of the singletons. The reason I run the first Gifts is because getting more cards is awesome; you get the same effect if you’ve drawn the Life from the Loam or whatever. If you have already drawn some of the cards you want, any good spell will present problems in an Intuition stack. Do not be afraid to include a Pernicious Deed or Counterbalance in a stack; the opponent can almost never give these cards to you so they are forced to give you something you want.
The one problem in this mode is that you do not have a lot of cards in hand. You are strategically casting spells that get countered just to resolve the Intuition, but you are also playing a lot of lands. Your Loam each turn is going to get thrown away to strip the opponent’s hand. It can be disorienting to be playing like a control deck just to turn around all of a sudden and have no cards in hand, putting all your faith into a single Vedalken Shackles. The best part is that as you dredge Life from the Loam, more options open up.
Sometimes you have to play like a genuine board control deck. In the games where you do not see an early Counterbalance or Intuition, you have to play honestly and deal with the opponent’s threats. It is important to basically only counter what matters. Your whole goal here is to just keep your life total high and trade until you can clean up with either Pernicious Deed or Vedalken Shackles. Your Force of Will here will be used either protecting one of those three mana spells or protecting your Tarmogoyf. You might occasionally have to use it to keep yourself alive, stopping a turn 1 Hypnotic Specter. Most of the time nuisances like early Hymn to Tourach or non-Goblin Lackey creatures should just be ignored. It’s not that these cards cannot wreck you, but you have to carefully conserve your countermagic for what matters, since you will not draw a second Force and Blue spell in time. Your cards are individually so good that you can count on getting two for ones when you need them. One of the best ways the deck wins in this mode is just through attrition; if you put together Academy Ruins or Volrath’s Stronghold plus some other card, it is hard to lose. You can answer whatever they play each turn, and eventually they will draw blanks and you won’t. Sometimes Tarmogoyf wins here, but Demigods are a powerful threat that don’t require the board to be clear. Tarmogoyf can get in the way of Deed when you’re trying to win; Vedalken Shackles doesn’t.
Every Blue deck is eventually faced with the same problem: you have Brainstorm and Force of Will as the only two Blue spells in hand. Do you cast Brainstorm first and hope to draw another Blue spell, while also fixing your deck? In this deck the answer is absolutely no. You only have 16 Blue spells, so if you cast Brainstorm, it is likely that you will not draw another spell to pitch to Force of Will.
Favorable pre-board, favorable post-board
Maindeck cards to include: Diabolic Edict
Reasonable sideboard cards: Krosan Grip
Just about every card in your deck is good against Threshold. This is one of the main reasons why I hate having all three removal spells be Smother; I have lost multiple games to Threshold because they drew multiple Nimble Mongeese and I drew all my Smothers. Still it is nice to have a mix; when they have Tarmogoyf + Nimble Mongoose you probably want a Smother to kill their Goyf instead of their Goose.
Just about everything I have said in the past about Counterbalance mirrors applies here. In most matchups it is true that you want to be pretty aggressive, but you do not want to walk into Daze. Most of your hands against them are overloaded with spells they have to counter or lose, so it is important to get maximal value from each one. They get a bunch of virtual card advantage by using their lower land count and higher amount of draw spells to draw fewer lands. Consequently the more times you can make them pay the alternate cost of Force of Will, the better. Your entire goal in this matchup is to trade 1 for 1 or better until you land some ridiculous bomb and just win. The spells you most want to resolve all cost three mana which helps you get around Counterbalance. Generally in this matchup you want to cast Sensei’s Divining Top on turn 1 and play a removal spell or your own Tarmogoyf on turn 3 (to play around Daze). If that sticks you have plenty of time to make land drops and test spell them into oblivion. If it does not stick, you have drawn a counterspell out of their hand; most of the time your second spell will now resolve. If you need to lead with three drop spells, Pernicious Deed is the weakest, Vedalken Shackles is the second weakest and Intuition is the best; swap Pernicious Deed and Intuition if the opponent has Engineered Explosives out. Even with 2 Pernicious Deed 1 Vedalken Shackles as I favor, against non-Stifle builds you can still Intuition for 2 Pernicious Deed 1 Engineered Explosives. If you are under less pressure, consider this alternate stack: Academy Ruins, Engineered Explosives, Vedalken Shackles.
There are three keys to beating Threshold: playing around Stifle, winning through or around Counterbalance, and stopping their Tarmogoyfs. Playing around Stifle turns out to be fairly easy if you make a commitment to it. Common logic to answering Wasteland suggests leaving fetchlands around and fetching out basics; beating Stifle Thresh requires the exact opposite play. Unless they run Blood Moon (which is unlikely if they run their own Stifle–Wasteland package), you want to start fetching out dual lands, especially Tropical Islands, and never stop. This is the key to keeping a single Wasteland from wrecking you. You definitely need to keep a few green sources available when you are starting Life from the Loam recursion; if you get careless they can easily win the game by Wastelanding your single green source and keep you from ever drawing another one.
Beating Counterbalance is often a matter of luck; consequently most of the deck is built around winning even if an opposing Counterbalance comes down. The trick is just to only use Force of Will when you have to; that Tarmogoyf probably does not need to be countered if you have any sort of answer. The best part about Force of Will is that it protects your own Smother just as easily as it stops their Tarmogoyf; it is unusual if Force of Will is used on anything other than another counter or Counterbalance. If Counterbalance does come out your first priority is to remove it. If Intuition cannot remove Counterbalance because you drew too many answers, just go for three Demigods of Revenge. Eventually you will Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and win on the spot.
Post-board you generally board out some spot removal for a limited amount of answers. Sideboarded games are slower than game 1s. Still the amount of cards you can sideboard out is extremely limited and you have a good matchup already; I would be suspicious if more than 3 cards came in from the sideboard.
Slightly favorable pre-board, favorable post-board.
Maindeck cards to include: Diabolic Edict, Nevinyrral’s Disk
Reasonable sideboard cards: Blue Elemental Blast, Thoughtseize, Nevinyrral’s Disk
This was the big matchup and the main spark for the whole Demigod core, so it was refreshing to see that the changes actually worked. Vorosh felt worst than a 40/60 matchup here, and I think it’s closer to 55/45 pre-board and better post-board. Manage your fetchlands carefully; you almost always want the basic Swamp. Your entire goal in this matchup is to cast an Intuition at some point, so you really only want the basic Islands in play in response to an early Blood Moon and only 1. If the opponent gets their Blood Moon countered or doesn’t draw it, the basic Island can only get in your way. Blood Moon beats Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth which means your basic Islands will help you cast Demigod of Revenge.
They can really only beat you in three ways. The first is that they just absurdly blow you out with early Blood Moon effects and Chalice of the Void. Shrug, sometimes you just lose. If they don’t, their Grey Ogre plan of Simian Spirit Guides and Magus of the Moon rarely gets there because it gives you too much time to combo out. They either need equipment or Arc-Slogger/Rakdos Pit Dragon to beat you. I prefer the maindeck Diabolic Edicts here because they can beat the giant Dragons. The equipment plan happens much more rarely but it is harder to beat; you have to either have put them on it and saved a counter for it or just got lucky with Pernicious Deed. Because you are unaffected and can even be helped to Demigod mana, Blood Moon is sometimes not worth countering. Counterbalance is useless here and should almost never be cast; you’ll counter maybe one spell in two or three games; you should be much more happy to pitch it to Force of Will and save your draw spells.
In most metagames, you’ll pack four Blue Elemental Blast in the side that should come in for Counterbalance. I generally look at taking out some of the useless Smothers, Vedalken Shackles, and the Raven’s Crime to fit in any Thoughtseizes I have, especially on the play and sometimes on the draw depending on how much chaff I have. Many of their hands blow you out on turn 1 or 2 but absolutely just fall apart to Thoughtseize on a mana source or their one threat. The singleton Shriekmaw should absolutely stay in
Unfavorable pre-board, varies based on sideboard
Reasonable sideboard cards: Engineered Plague, Blue Elemental Blast
There are two basic keys to game 1 against Goblins: winning the die roll and having a Tarmogoyf in the first few turns are both strong indicators of victory. In game 1 situations you only have Force of Will to answer Lackey on the draw, so a large number of opening hands are not keepable on the draw against Goblins that would be keepable on the play. If they open with Lackey into either an explosive draw or just Siege-Gang Commander, you will be on the backfoot the entire game and likely lose.
The game 1s you win are about running the Goblins player out of cards and then winning. The games you win involve landing a Tarmogoyf, countering their singleton Warren Weirding if they have it and then either setting up insane Vedalken Shackles/Engineered Explosives advantage on the ground or simply putting 5/4 flyers in the air and winning. Demigods are actually awesome here. With just ground creatures, Threshold or Vorosh would often have ground stalls where neither player could profitably attack because of a dangerous counter attack. Goblins almost always wins the ground stalls because of Goblin Ringleader and Siege-Gang Commander. Now you can continue to hold the ground and just get in for 5.
B/x Disruption Decks:
Slightly favorable pre-board, slightly favorable post-board
Maindeck cards to include: Diabolic Edict, Vedalken Shackles
Reasonable sideboard cards: Thoughtseize, Spell Snare, Misdirection
The more aggressive these decks are, the worse for you. You can easily defeat their Sinkholes and Hymn to Touraches with a single Life from the Loam. You have 24 land, so it is unusual that they can completely lock you out of the game via mana screw. Just protect Intuition via Brainstorm and Sensei’s Divining Top. You can also win easily via Vedalken Shackles if you keep lands on the table. Basic Islands are very powerful here. To win this matchup you basically need to keep something around after their Sinkholes and Hymns; they are weak if you ever manage to stabilize. The biggest risk is that they drop an early Nantuko Shade or Tombstalker. Diabolic Edict is great here because it kills both with just basic lands. If you manage to set up Loam in game 1 they basically cannot kill you.
Post board they get Extirpate, so do not expose your Loams early. Counterbalance floating a one mana spell is of course ridiculous against it, but naturally drawing Loam is even better because you are guaranteed one usage. If you can just get a single Life from the Loam activation to get a Legendary Land for insane amounts of advantage, you will be fine. The card you most want to have in your hand is Sensei’s Divining Top because it pulls you out of mana screw and helps you find Shackles when you need it.
Gifts Ungiven is too slow here, and Shriekmaw sucks. I like to board in a few Thoughtseize because they can just destroy an opening hand by taking the critical Dark Ritual. Just watch your blue spell count. Spell Snare is a reasonable sideboard card and Misdirection is awesome but you are unlikely to have either in your sideboard unless the black disruption decks are everywhere.
Slightly favorable pre-board, more favorable post-board
Maindeck Cards to include: Pernicious Deed
Reasonable sideboard cards: Thoughtseize
Faster combo decks that are less resistant to countermagic are naturally a better matchup. The slower decks with Abeyance and Orim’s Chant are worse for you, especially Abeyance. Remember that they can play these things offensively on your turn.
Game 1 is all about Force of Will and Counterbalance. Hands that do not have these cards get mulliganed. Duh, right. You actually have an advantage over other Counterbalance decks in this matchup because you actually put them on a reasonable clock. They basically cannot win once you Intuition to set up Raven’s Crime recursion. Use Sensei’s Divining Top to hide your Intuitions from Duress and never tap out on your own turn except for Counterbalance. It also doesn’t hurt to always bluff Force of Will here; many combo players are used to playing for the long game against control decks to not lose to the lucky Force of Will draw.
Other sideboard cards come in depending on the matchup. Against Belcher you also want Blue Elemental Blast. Against storm decks you want Tormod’s Crypt. You might also just board in more creatures to improve your clock. Generally you can take out Vedalken Shackles and the spot removal. You want to leave all Deeds and Engineered Explosives; they are a good answer to Empty the Warrens and sometimes you need them to just blow up a board full of Moxen and Lotus Petals. I did once board out the Demigods for space against Belcher and instantly regretted it; without them it can be difficult to put lethal on the board in time to win.
Volrath’s Stronghold and Academy Ruins can be used to set up your deck for Counterbalance. In game 1 situations, you have 5 and 2 casting cost creatures and 3 and 0 casting cost artifacts.
Try to keep uncracked fetchlands around; not only do they help you shuffle your deck to optimize with Sensei’s Divining Top, but they keep an opponent from being able to exploit a weak card on top of your library. You can reveal a weak card to Counterbalance and still have a chance to counter their bomb by shuffling.
Fetchlands tap for black mana with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in play. Normally this is bad because it can open a weak draw up to Wasteland, but it can help you preserve your last few life points when aggressively using Life From the Loam.
Often times, especially against Dragon Stompy I find myself with one Demigod of Revenge in hand, casting Intuition for the other two. I like to throw a Shriekmaw in the stack; it can be devastating if they give it to you. You could go the other way and try putting a land in the stack in order to bin the two Demigods.
The Demigod deck can be tough to play, and the mana issues are not insignificant. But when the deck gets going nothing can really stop it. The deck is flexible and offers plenty of room for opponents to screw up. I feel like Demigod is the most objectively powerful deck in the format. It has all the most powerful cards and strategies. Plus, you get to make loud explosion sounds when you cast Demigod of Revenge and attack for 15.