Unlocking Legacy – Testing (and Hyping) Lorwyn

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Lorwyn cards are legal now, and it seems like no one cares. Newer sets tend to have less of an impact on Legacy rather than older sets. Future Sight brought us the format sweeping Tarmogoyf, so Lorwyn is a letdown by comparison. Personally I tend to find the sets like Lorwyn more intriguing for Legacy. I’ve been going through Lorwyn looking for cards that are better than people give them credit, based on the experiences I picked up looking at other formats and judging. I also put some of the new Lorwyn cards to the test in Goblins.

“Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it. Many will read the book before one thinks of quoting a passage. As soon as he has done this, that line will be quoted east and west.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lorwyn cards are legal now, and it seems like no one cares. Newer sets tend to have less of an impact on Legacy rather than older sets. Future Sight brought us the format sweeping Tarmogoyf, so Lorwyn is a letdown by comparison. Personally I tend to find the sets like Lorwyn more intriguing for Legacy. Anyone can get a new enabler like Mind’s Desire and build a Tendrils deck around it. I greatly enjoy trying to find new ways to tweak small increments of value out of new cards (or even just cards no one else is using). I’ve been going through Lorwyn looking for cards that are better than people give them credit, based on the experiences I picked up looking at other formats and judging. I also put some of the new Lorwyn cards to the test in Goblins.

The most hyped cards from Lorwyn are Gaddock Teeg and Thoughtseize. Last month I did some preliminary investigations with Thoughtseize and found it useful but not amazing. Posters in the forums pointed out that I was looking to Thoughtseize to fundamentally rework certain matchups. This is a pretty tall order for a card that is only evolutionary better. Good point, guys. I’ve since rethought my stance on Thoughtseize. Thoughtseize is actually pretty good against aggressive decks; the two life you lose to Thoughtseize balances out by the damage you prevent by removing a Tarmogoyf or a burn spell. Thoughtseize is also excellent in providing a pre-emptive answer to creatures that you traditionally had to counter or struggle against, like Nimble Mongoose or Siege-Gang Commander. You don’t want to think of Thoughtseize as an enhanced Duress; instead look at it as a Cabal Therapy that does not whiff. Cabal Therapy always felt undervalued to me since it had the ability to remove creatures. Every time I would Duress Threshold they invariably held a hand of creatures. The most exciting part about Thoughtseize is that the decks that want to run it tend to have weaker creatures and would suffer against a Mongoose or Tarmogoyf.

Thorn of Amethyst has seen a lot of press as a way to revitalize Goblins after some disappointing results in the second half of 2007. The other cards to see suggestion in the archetype are Wort, Boggart Auntie and Boggart Mob. Faithful readers may remember that I was similarly excited about Chalice of the Void, only to be disappointed in testing. As you will see, there is a trend here. I was originally skeptical of the goblins and very excited about Thorn of Amethyst, but it turns out that I got the two backwards. Earlier this week I tested R/b Goblins, cutting four Goblin Tinkerer for four Thorn of Amethyst and one Mogg Fanatic for one Wort. I had originally cut a land, but my mana did not develop fast enough, so I had to remove the 4th Fanatic to make space. Here was the list I tested.

I did some testing, mainly against U/G/R Threshold from Worlds, but also against a variety of other Threshold lists. Thorn was extremely disappointing. Since it costs two, you can only ever play it after your opponent has had the opportunity to fix their hand. Even if you get it early, making cantrips cost two was not that big a barrier to the Threshold player. The cantrips do not kill you, the giant freakin’ Green creature does. When Thorn of Amethyst stops Tarmogoyf from hitting play, I’ll take notice. By the time you can play Thorn, they have already seen ten cards and will be on their way to playing the Green monster.

On the flip side, I really liked the singleton Wort. I was originally skeptical; when would you want to go fetch Wort with Goblin Matron when you have Goblin Ringleader available? Against counter-heavy decks, Ringleader gets you maybe three creatures, but Wort gets you back a Ringleader and extra creatures. And if that’s not enough, Wort can regrow Gempalm Incinerators (to cantrip?)!

The best part about the new Goblins is that they have higher base stats than the Goblins we are used to, and by that I mean that you finally have creatures that can block Dark Confidant and not die. The Threshold matchup changes when your creatures can trade with their Mongeese.

Still, you have to be very careful with the number of four-drops you run. The current manabase cannot support more than I have now. I could definitely see a build that runs Chrome Mox to accelerate faster into Wort and Boggart Mob. The most exciting thing about Wort is fear. Evasion is so incredibly good in Legacy. Faerie Stompy owes a lot of its success to Flying, since Threshold cannot trade its Nimble Mongeese for Sea Drakes. Wort is a one-man army, since it sneaks past Threshold’s Goyfs and brings back an army to defend yourself. True, it dies to Bolt and Swords, but you can’t have everything.

I am intrigued by the potential of Boggart Mob. I will admit, the card was completely off my radar until Coppola referenced it in his most recent article. And the creature is rather anti-synergetic with the rest of the deck, since you want a mob of Goblins for every other card, and this guy has champion. But I win so many games with Goblins simply by getting in for four or five and putting pressure with my land disruption. Boggart Mob does all of that in one card. The other exciting part of Boggart Mob is that it takes your best Goblin and makes it immune to removal. The one catch is to make sure you have at least two Goblins when you play the Mob so that one removal spell does not kill the Mob. You know what’s exciting? Playing Ringleader and then championing it with the Mob. Your Landstill opponent uses Pernicious Deed and clears away the Mob, and you get Ringleader’s comes-into-play ability again. In fact it is not unreasonable to hold an Aether Vial at four and keep Boggart Mob in reserve to counter Swords to Plowshares. Personally I cannot wait to pull this play off; my excitement is only tempered by the fact that I will probably be wrecked by that exact play in the next tournament I play in.

No one is giving the Planeswalkers the respect they deserve. I too was firmly in the “not good enough for Legacy” camp until I saw them in action in a Standard tournament. The Planeswalkers have so much raw power, and they have a huge impact on the board when you play them. In Standard, having Garruk or not can be the difference between winning or losing a fight against beatdown decks; this prompted me to take a second look at the Planeswalkers. Each Planeswalker gives you access to an ability that you normally would have to cast a spell for, but it does so without opening the effect up to countermagic. A turn 4 Planeswalker can turn off most countermagic the opponent has. If you live that long and your Planeswalker is not the victim of Pithing Needle, Planeswalkers can offer a sizeable card advantage. I think the Red, White, and Blue Planeswalkers are probably unplayable, but I think Liliana and Garruk have some potential. The other three planeswalkers are good at what they do, but I do not think that they do enough or the right thing in order to justify their playability. Liliana and Garruk are both very powerful and occupy a niche that the decks that would play them have no other way to fill. At the very least they deserve the second look that I do not think they are receiving.

Garruk is every terrible midrange deck I was trying to build in the past six months, all rolled into one. I do not think you want Garruk in a mid-range beatdown deck though, which is good because those decks seem uniformly terrible. I think you either use Garruk to untap Gaea’s Cradle, or you use it to break open an aggro mirror match. Specifically, and I know I’m likely to get laughed at for this, but what about Garruk in the Goblins mirror? One school of thought already splashes Green in Goblins for Tin-Street Hooligan, so it is not unreasonable to get access to GG. Garruk seems ridiculous in the Goblins mirror. You hit your drops faster and more consistently, allowing you to play out your hand faster. A 3/3 is still bigger than every creature the opponent plays, and there is no way you can lose after overrunning a board full of Goblins and then turning them sideways.

Honestly, I think I only like Liliana because the ultimate ability is so strong, but it requires you to kill multiple creatures and survive a bunch of turns. Liliana is interesting because once you cast her, the Vampiric Tutor or discard abilities help you fill the graveyard and stay alive in order to activate her ability. The Vampiric Tutor and discard abilities are too slow to be part of a combo deck, since if you could pay five for Liliana chances are you didn’t need her abilities. Imagine laying Liliana Vess turn 5 after casting Damnation turn 4 against Threshold. You can use the discard ability to help force your spells through and then set up your answers to their creatures with the Vampiric Tutor ability. Really, after Liliana comes down you have the game won, since you just have to trade until you can activate the ultimate ability. It will be extremely difficult for Threshold to win there. The first place I would look at testing it is in some sort of G/B control deck, probably in the style of this deck:

Generally, in any deck that used Haunting Echoes to craft an endgame against Threshold, I would look and see if Liliana Vess is good in that deck, or possibly even better and more flexible than Echoes.

Shriekmaw is incredibly good in Standard, so it makes sense to examine whether it has a place in Legacy. In Black decks, either Ghastly Demise or Vendetta take the place of Swords to Plowshares. After those two, cards like Smother tend to see play, even though they are horribly limited. Smother is basically only good against Tarmogoyf, and Shriekmaw is much better there. Yes, Shriekmaw turns out to be pretty bad at stopping the Goblin Warchief assault, but I prefer it for the increased flexibility. Being able to cast your removal at instant speed is actually not that exciting against Threshold; they have no creatures with haste and no equipment. There is often an advantage to casting removal on your turn. Too often players get lured into casting their spells as instants because they think they have to, and then they lose to the topdecked counter. Plus, Shriekmaw plus Grim Harvest seems incredibly spicy.

Lessons from Judging
There is no excuse to get a decklist error. Ever. Two factors cause decklist issues: haste and carelessness. Both of these get fixed easily: figure out what you want to play the night before, and print out an Apprentice or Magic Workstation decklist. Even if the site does not let you use this as the decklist, you can copy the cards directly. This way you can be sure you have not missed something.

As a judge, I tend to see two classes of judge calls. The first is, “How do these cards interact?” and the second is, “I just played my own card wrong, what happens?” Both of these are easily fixable: know your deck. You need to test decks the way you expect to play them in a tournament. Don’t rush through your upkeep and get into a habit of missing suspend triggers. Keep track of how much time games are taking. Too often I see players accept sloppy play in testing or in casual games because “it doesn’t matter.” Then at a tournament the players who practice sloppily end up playing rather sloppily. I cannot stress this enough: know your cards. There are plenty of resources available if you have questions, from Ask the Judge and Ask Wizards to #mtgjudge on the Efnet IRC server. Simply put, if one player knows how the rules and the cards work and the other does not, the knowledgeable player is ahead in the matchup.

There is also a large class of infractions that it is easy to never commit, but players often do because they are not familiar with the guidelines. Every player who wants to play in tournaments should read the Penalty Guidelines.

Randomly determining the outcome of a match and cheating are both easy infractions to avoid. Don’t do them. Luckily this seems like it is on the decline, but a startling number of tournament reports have included one player admitting to this.

The more significant infraction that players commit, often unwittingly, is bribery/collusion. The Penalty Guidelines has this to say: “Bribery occurs when a player offers an incentive to entice an opponent into conceding, drawing, or changing the results of a match.” Further clarification from the Universal Tournament Rules: “Players are allowed to share prizes they have won as they wish, such as with teammates, as long as any such sharing does not occur as an exchange for the win, loss, concession, drop or draw of a game or match.” It turns out that it’s not hard to avoid a Bribery infraction; you’re free to concede to your opponent at any time before the match ends, but you cannot do it in exchange for anything. This includes conceding your opponent into the Top 8 and expecting prize. If you already have a prize split, great. If your opponent gives you something for scooping him into the Top 8, good for them. But if there was some sort of incentive for you to concede him into the Top 8, that’s Bribery. Honestly, just don’t do it. Judges are onto it and they watch for Bribery very carefully.

Kevin Binswanger

One more thing
Boseiju, Who Shelters All is really good. It stops counters, Counterbalance, and lets you execute your plan flawlessly. I was testing an Enduring Ideal game, and I kept winning games where I drew Boseiju, even through Counterbalance and Force of Will. I quickly discovered, as you can imagine, that the rest of the deck was slow and clunky, and I threw out everything but the 3 Boseiju. Still, Boseiju is definitely an underrated card. Watch this space in the future for when I find 57 good cards to go with it.