Unlocking Legacy – Practical Shadowmoor Applications

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Monday, April 28th – Take a look at some of the most powerful combos from Magic’s newest set! Doug takes a look at the new staples, compelling combo cards and others that just barely missed the cut for playability. Consider sure-fire hits like Painter’s Servant and oddball enablers like Ghastly Discovery. Is Demigod of Revenge playable without support cards to enable its brothers to come and play? Doug tackles these and more in this week’s Unlocking Legacy.

I’ll spare you from yet another punny Shadowmoor article title.

Shadowmoor is an interesting set for a lot of formats, but Legacy seems least impacted by it. The Eternal formats have a very high barrier to entry for new cards, so while the Graven Cairns cycle is amazing in just about all other formats, it cannot contend with fetchlands and dual lands. Add to this the new focus on creatures over spells in set design; anything new must hang with Tarmogoyf, Goblin Lackey, and Dark Confidant. A tall order indeed.

That said, Shadowmoor has several very interesting cards, some of which can slot into existing decks and others that either require new builds or have the potential to replace sideboard cards. I’m going to discuss the practical applications of several Legacy-worthy cards, as well as look at ones that might not make the cut.

Let’s start with the most hyped combo: Painter’s Servant plus Grindstone. Set the Servant to whatever color you like and then activate Grindstone on the opponent to deck them. All this can be yours for six mana! This is an exciting combo, no doubt. Two cards, colorless mana and a kill that doesn’t rely on attacking, damage or the graveyard. So how do we best use this combo?

Ah, that’s where things get tricky. Historically, two-card, six mana combos haven’t been enough to break into Legacy. Time Vault plus Flame Fusillade never did much, even when the combination was legal. Similarly, Time Vault and Rings of Brighthearth haven’t made a splash either. The sticky part of this is that you’ll likely want to run four copies of each card in a dedicated deck, meaning you’re devoting significant deck space to the combo. The other alternative is slotting it in an existing deck and planning to see it at some point or tutor it up. Neither of these options seems compelling to me. If I were playing around with this combo, I would look to integrate it into a storm combo shell; for a little more mana than Tendrils of Agony, you remove the requirement of both colored mana and ten spells as a barrier to killing the opponent. You also pick up nice tricks like Duress and Dark Ritual. That said, I haven’t got a list that works or is even close to working. It probably has Grim Tutors in it though…

I’ll tell you what the combo won’t be good in: decks being cute with Elemental Blasts. You’re devoting up to ten cards in your deck to Red Elemental Blast and friends, hoping that drawing that Painter’s Servant will turn on the sixth of your deck that’s blank. When the Servant dies (because trust me, it will), those cards revert back to being The Goggles. With that on the table though, I would delight in seeing a deck using the dastardly Spinal Villain.

If I were running the combo in a deck with less than four copies of each, it would probably involve Gifts Ungiven and Argivan Find as ways of pulling the combo pieces out. A Replenish for artifacts would not only be broken in general, it would have a nice effect here for pulling the pieces out of the yard. We don’t have anything that fits the bill right now though.

Similarly, I don’t see Manamorphose doing much for existing decks. It’s like a Street Wraith that doesn’t punch you in the face, but it doesn’t do much else. Most Belcher decks I’ve seen putting up results aren’t even running the Wraith. You end up with a card that takes up deck space and takes a known quantity, the card in your hand, and trades it for an unknown quantity, the one on top of your library. Without doing anything else beyond that, I think it’s safe to say that the tradeoff isn’t worth making in Legacy decks.

On to nice things… Oona, Queen of the Fae is a really solid body. At the cost, it’s comparable to Keiga, The Tide Star; Morphling; and Meloku the Clouded Mirror. I’m comfortable saying that it compares favorably. All of the aforementioned creatures have the same vulnerability to removal (save Morphling, the biggest pain ever to kill) and don’t pack the same attacking power that Oona does. These cards have only found a home in MUC as expensive finishers. Oona seems primed to replace these cards. Provided that she lives until your next untap phase, Oona will be making an army at instant speed for only the cost of mana. It’ll make less attackers than Meloku, but it also preserves your land so that you can make them every turn. She also pounds for three more damage, making up for the lack of guaranteed attackers. I suppose the milling ability is nice, though I see it just as a pleasant side bonus. I’d look at testing it in Jeremiah Rudolph’s recent first-place MUC list:

Jeremiah, in his report, admits that he doesn’t know a thing about Legacy, but taking first place at a relatively decent-sized tournament legitimizes the list to a degree. If you have a jones for MUC, try replacing the Melokus in this deck with Oona and see if you like the difference.

Oona can also be viewed as a parallel with the Dragon legends; her ability is much more manageable, however, as it doesn’t require contact with the opponent. Consider the following list, running a single Vorosh (and delighting Dan Spero, no doubt):

This comes from the same Hadley event as the one above, this time piloted by James Mankins. Note that it’s an unwieldy 62 cards. Frowns. Replacing the Vorosh with Oona would be easier on the casting requirements and be likely to hit with a similar amount of force on an attack. That Oona can also crank out blockers against creature rushes makes for a compelling choice over the Dragon Legend. Could Oona be the finisher in the long-tested but never successful Blue/Black control deck that must exist somewhere in Legacy? Time and testing will tell.

Now, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Heap Doll is worth keeping in mind as a strong bullet against the Dredge decks around. It’s what Offalsnout wants to be; it comes down before Cabal Therapy can do its magic and it’s a maindeckable graveyard hate card that can also get in there for a little bit of damage. Note that the sacrifice effect will remove any Bridge from Below copies in the graveyard. I fancy it because it provides an unlikely blocker for a Goblin Lackey and it filters away to Thirst For Knowledge. If we get to the point in the format where maindecked graveyard control is necessary, I’d look to heaping in the Heap Dolls.

Fulminator Mage is a neat card that will be looking for a deck to play in. Compare it with Magus of the Moon. The Mage will hopefully 2-for-1 the opponent, but I’m not sure that the effect is strong enough for three mana in Legacy. The two colored mana symbols make it far harder to power out from the Ancient Tombs of Dragon Stompy. I suppose it’s playable in Survival of the Fittest decks, though Avalanche Riders compares favorably and doesn’t see much play either. The final consideration is that it can be a purely Black card, making it worthwhile in Deadguy or similar Black-centric disruption decks that aim to win wars of attrition.

Similarly, I don’t see Vexing Shusher doing a whole lot; decks packing counters have removal as well. If you’re attempting to protect a combo like Goblin Charbelcher, then Xantid Swarm is a far cheaper spell to cast and doesn’t suck up mana on vital combo turns. Shusher might have a place as a 2- or 3-of in Survival of the Fittest decks, enabling the deck to safely land its namesake or other bomby cards like Tarmogoyf. It’s a fine attacker in its own right, but where would you find space for it in decks? Furthermore, does anything really need the card? In a non-combo deck, it’s doubtful that Shusher will actually be activated against an opponent; nobody is going to be tossing their counterspells at it when they know they’ll just be countered. Savvy opponents will hold their counters in hand to overwhelm it or catch a tapped-out opponent instead.

Savor The Moment is one of those compelling cards that’s either terrible or amazing, though we don’t know for sure. It basically rubs summoning sickness away from your creatures, cantrips, and lets you play another land in hand. Is this good enough for our format, much less any format? In Vintage, one of the strongest uses of Time Walk is to allow an untap after playing several big spells on your turn. Savor The Moment doesn’t give that kind of leeway. I predict that it will not see play, simply because the practical effect is far less than what three mana will get you already in Legacy.

Demigod of Revenge has been getting a lot of press too. It functionally avoids counterspells if at least one other copy has been played, and it can cause tremendous life swings on a single casting. I’ve seen it suggested with Buried Alive, Intuition, Survival of the Fittest and many other cards intended to get copies in the graveyard and in play. Let me share a secret with you: the most powerful combo for the card is Demigod of Revenge plus five mana to cast it. Anything past that is a serious case of gilding the lily (or lotus). You don’t need enablers to turn on Demigod! You just play it and if it gets answered, the next one you play will have even greater effect! Please, any combo with this card will be too much mana for not enough effect. Just play it by itself, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Wheel of Sun and Moon, the turbo Soldevi Digger, presents some interesting possibilities. The card that comes to my mind is Merchant Scroll for the best combination. You hunt down what you need, then both the Scroll and the card go back. That said, you’re not accomplishing any deck thinning in the process. It’s too weak of an effect for stopping Dredge decks; by the time you have mana for it, the Dredge player will likely have stripped it out of your hand. It’s best viewed as a Johnny card that has some interesting interactions, but no clear broken applications. It pleasantly reminds me of the Turbo-Meditate deck in Standard many years ago. The deck would plow through its library and then recycle all the good spells with Gaea’s Blessings. Wheel doesn’t allow one to discriminate on the filtered-back cards, greatly weakening its beneficial applications.

Shadowmoor is replete with two-card combos like Swans of Bryn Argoll and Chain of Plasma or Grindstone and Painter’s Servant and also packs a host of interesting cards that will likely not see immediate play. However, the takeaway is that there are a lot of cards that, with future cards, might give us a critical threshold of cards for new decks. For example, we should keep the Swan and Grindstone combos in mind, as new sets might give us the tools to fully implement the cards. Furthermore, with cards like Gleeful Sabotage, we see potential replacements for staples like Hull Breach. Though I don’t see Shadowmoor as having a strong impact on Legacy, I am sure that we’ll see cards like Demigod of Revenge have their day in the sun.

Until next time,

Doug Linn