Unlocking Legacy – Lessons Learned

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I have tried to follow hunches and ideas in decks even when they are ludicrous or go against the conventional wisdom. The most frequent result is utter junk; it turns out that conventional wisdom can be pretty wise. Sometimes I get interesting results, or better yet I get some new and useful deck. The most recent and interesting experiments involved Faerie Stompy and Goblins, and I want to share some things I learned.

“It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatsoever for supposing it is true.”
Bertrand Russell

That’s actually not the quote I wanted to use to open this article. The downside of starting each article with a quotation is that the one I wanted to use, one about inspiration by Jack London, headlined an article five months ago. The upside is that I get to sound like an intellectual (or at least a pompous jerk!) without trying hard.

I have tried to follow hunches and ideas in decks even when they are ludicrous or go against the conventional wisdom. The most frequent result is utter junk; it turns out that conventional wisdom can be pretty wise. Sometimes I get interesting results, or better yet I get some new and useful deck. The most recent and interesting experiments involved Faerie Stompy and Goblins, and I want to share some things I learned.

Faerie Stompy
Conventional wisdom tells when to decide whether we want 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 copies of a card. In one of his articles about Long.dec he presented the theory that if you wanted to see a card in your opening hand every game, you wanted 7-8 “copies” of a card. You can achieve more than 4 copies of a card with redundancy and tutors. I started the Faerie Stompy experiment right around the time I was looking at Thorn of Amethyst in Goblins. Some readers may remember that I was down on Thorn in Goblins because it was too slow and irrelevant in Goblins; by the time it came out Threshold had already done its damage. Plus Thorn on turn 1 meant most of the time that you could not do much damage until turn 4.

My reasoning went something like this: “There’s a really interesting deck that already runs another two-drop in Chalice of the Void. I wonder what that deck can do with Thorn of Amethyst.” However Thorn doesn’t do anything to solve the fundamental issues with Faerie Stompy. To me Faerie Stompy has always been powerful and interesting but very swingy. Faerie Stompy runs about 40 cards that are very powerful and awesome, but the other 20, like Cloud of Faeries, are incredibly underwhelming. Yes, Cloud of Faeries can do some interesting things in the deck, but really its strength is in its Serendib Efreets, Sea Drakes, and Chalice of the Voids. If Faerie Stompy fails in its initial onslaught, chances are it will lose the game. So I put AfFOWnity, Faerie Stompy and Thorn of Amethyst in a blender and came out with a monstrosity. The deck ended up being a failing, but I’ll go ahead and start with a decklist. Or I would if I hadn’t burned the deck off my hard disk. Let me give you an idea of what the deck looked like, even if this is not exact:

First off, Menendian was right. If you treat Thorn of Amethyst and Chalice of the Void as functionally equivalent, you can count on getting one in hand at the start of the game. In a way the deck’s concept was successful. Basically the only times the deck did not have a turn 1 disruption piece was when I had to mulligan more than once (not uncommon) or when I did not have a card to pitch to Chrome Mox. Most of the problems come after that point. I built all my work with Stax on the premise that a powerful turn 1 or turn 2 play was enough to win the game. Nowadays what deck does not run Force of Will?

Plus I made a mistake in the deck construction; I sacrificed too much of the power of the deck to emphasize the Affinity sub-theme. In consequence I lost the ability to play a turn 2 Serendib Efreet. It turns out that the Affinity concept is not nearly as strong with only 8 artifact lands and only Ravager as a cheap artifact. I made the mistake of thinking Affinity was still good, when clearly things have changed. Back when people were still playing UW Landstill a 4/4 was big and scary. Threshold had to pay mana for Werebears when Affinity got them for free. Now even when your opponent isn’t packing Goyfs, they have plenty of ways to neuter giant creatures. Plus you just do not have enough cards to power the Affinity core; you need at least eight more good artifacts.

Thorn of Amethyst is really good with Affinity cards. In fact, Thorn of Amethyst is really good in the entire deck. Why was Thorn so good in the deck and so bad in Goblins? Every time I build an Ancient Tomb deck I run up against one fundamental fact: the difference between going first and going second is two turns in the deck instead of the usual one. Force of Will goes a long way towards solving this problem which is one reason why Faerie Stompy interests me so. Thorn of Amethyst was actually better in the deck than Chalice of the Void. Threshold playing Sensei’s Divining Top on turn 1 before you get a turn really diminishes the power of Chalice, but that constant mana drain actually makes Thorn better. Thorn of Amethyst is actually so good I would want to run another set of Sphere of Resistances rather than Chalice of the Void.

One of the geneses of the deck was Affinity with Force of Will, and I think the deck can afford to go back in that direction. That would open up the possibility for Sphere of Resistance and Thorn of Amethyst as well as 12 fliers. Tarmogoyf made flight more important than ever in Legacy; I have made some rather ludicrous suggestions about creatures because they flew. If Affinity could fit Serendib Efreet or Sea Drake, I would strongly consider it. Because they are artifacts, neither Sphere of Resistance nor Thorn of Amethyst make your Thoughtcasts spells more expensive. Thorn of Amethyst even makes your Frogmites and Myr Enforces cheaper by virtue of being an artifact.

There is just one problem with running Sphere of Resistance that has stopped me in the past: Ancient Tomb decks can easily produce three mana and struggle to produce four. Three mana happens regularly on turn 2 with the use of one accelerant. You actually cannot run Resistor as your turn 1 disruption because then you cannot get a turn 2 threat online.

I still have an article brewing with some sort of over-blown article name like “Unlocking Legacy – Questioning the Cash Cow”. It’s not ready, but I have been testing radical changes to the Goblins archetype and I wanted to share some preliminary results. I started with the premise that current Goblins builds are sub-optimal. If Goblins worked at its full potential it would be putting up significantly better results than it is now.

I started with a list of cards that I found to be very good in theory or preliminary testing. Wort, Boggart Auntie put up impressive numbers when I tested her initially. After I fired last month’s article off to Craig, I posted on the Legacy Adept board. I basically said, “Wow, the four-drops in Goblins are hundreds of times better than the two- and three-drops. How do we change the deck to basically just play four-drops?” This is the list I’ve been working on:

While this is not intended to be a primer on this Goblins builds (because let’s be honest, it doesn’t deserve one), I want to explain a few of the more radical card choices.

Aether Vial is a really good card… in a different metagame. In a world of Landstill and blue-based control decks, Aether Vial is incredibly good. The problem is that counters are only important to stop a few cards in the Goblins/Threshold matchup. Goblins loses most of its games when Threshold gets out a quick set of creatures before Goblins can stabilize, and Aether Vial really does nothing to stop that. Aether Vial slows the deck down a turn, but Chrome Mox and Ancient Tomb speed the deck up a turn. Seems good.

You know what card is really good? Stingscourger… sort of. Stingscourger fills an important role in the deck, which is mostly just being better than Gempalm Incinerator. In a world of Tarmogoyfs Gempalm is incredibly underwhelming. Naturally you keep the Gempalm Incinerators in the sideboard or the maindeck and switch them when appropriate. One of the best things about Stingscourger is that it bounces a creature and then gets to stick around and block. One of the worst things is that its echo is unaffected by Goblin Warchief.

So enough about all that junk. The real reason you read this far is for the four drops. Boggart Mob is very good. As a Black 5/5 it completely dodges Blue Elemental Blast and still provides beef through Engineered Plague. Goblins has to do a lot of Tarmogoyf chump-blocking, and Boggart Mob really helps. Most of the time in the matchup Tarmogoyf is a 4/5 or smaller, and Boggart Mob can beat it. At the very least Boggart Mob steamrolls over Nimble Mongeese. Nice Nantuko Monastery or Mishra’s Factory. More importantly it creates more Goblins to block with. More importantly there is no negative to losing it. Usually Goblin Matron fetches a championing Boggart Mob, and when the Mob dies, Matron comes back to either fetch Wort or Boggart Mob. The biggest downside to the Mob is that it requires two creatures in play to keep in play. Otherwise a stray Lightning Bolt can remove the champion and the Goblin in distress.

A lot of things had to leave to make room for the new Goblins. Four-drops made their way into the deck at the expense of two-drops, and even Stingscourger costs four on the second turn, so it can’t come out as a desperation two-drop the way Incinerator can. You have to jump up the curve to three just in order to make a creature drop on turn 2. You can afford to imprint creatures on Chrome Mox because you have extra sources of card advantage.

I’m still working on the deck, so it’s important to write about what’s not working too. I tested against a Threshold deck from GenCon with Stifle and Wasteland. Ironically Threshold’s land destruction was more relevant than the Goblins could muster. You need to ramp to four mana and quickly; you cannot beat Threshold without the higher end of the curve. A single Stifle can be very disruptive to the curve. The other problem is that you need to set up Badlands early for an early Wort or Mob. Threshold needs less lands to operate than you do, so it can more easily afford to hurt you. While the deck runs 26 lands, it runs a full set of fetchlands and depletes its library rather quickly. You do not even have the benefit of draw filtering, merely the cumulative effects of Matroning and fetching.

Goblins cannot afford a heavy splash commitment. Right now I have Boggart Mob and Wort in the maindeck, and some amount of Extirpates, Leyline of the Void, Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy in the sideboard. I already had to cut Rishadan Ports; the existing Ancient Tombs war with the omnipresent necessity for red mana. With Boggart Mob being a frequent imprint target and 6 colorless sources you cannot always play Goblin Warchief immediately. A single basic Swamp would easily resist Wasteland, but I do not think that the manabase can support one.

Actually, why not run Sensei’s Divining Top? You have twelve shuffle effects and then Ringleader to clear your library. More importantly, you desperately need the filtering. You want to see four or five lands early on and then just good creatures.

I am actually starting to question the inclusion of Wasteland, and that is after I already removed Rishadan Port. Wasteland and Rishadan Port only help you against Landstill and sometimes against combo decks. If the mana can better support a splash, you can get access to tools like Thoughtseize and better creatures that win those matchups for you anyway. Boggart Mob is a single-creature army which makes the deck on the whole less vulnerable to the traditionally hateful Pernicious Deed.

I’m trying something new this month; I set out to write about two topics and that’s all I wrote about. I hope to have enough testing results to talk about the new approach to Goblins next month. If you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to drop them this way.

Kevin Binswanger
Anusien on AIM
kbinswanger at gmail dot com