Unlocking Legacy – The Rise of Stifle

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Friday, January 2nd – Christopher Coppola comments on the Worlds Legacy deck choices, and examines the trends they reflect in current Legacy tournaments.

I. Worlds

Very little information was released about the Legacy portion of Worlds this year. As far as I know, we only have decklists from four players and no indication of what else was at the tournament. The chosen decks were Stax, Aggro-Loam, Dreadtill, and Team America. The last two decks are relatively recent developments and have certainly made an impact on the format:

Paul Cheon

4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
3 Trinket Mage
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
3 Spell Snare
4 Stifle
2 Trickbind
3 Counterbalance
4 Standstill
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Flooded Strand
6 Island
4 Mishra’s Factory
3 Polluted Delta
2 Volcanic Island
3 Wasteland

3 Blue Elemental Blast
2 Echoing Truth
1 Pyroblast
2 Red Elemental Blast
2 Pyroclasm
1 Pithing Needle
1 Relic of Progenitus
3 Tormod’s Crypt

Team America
Justin Cheung

4 Tarmogoyf
4 Tombstalker
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Snuff Out
4 Stifle
4 Ponder
4 Sinkhole
4 Thoughtseize
1 Bayou
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
2 Tropical Island
4 Underground Sea
4 Wasteland

1 Blue Elemental Blast
3 Diabolic Edict
2 Hydroblast
3 Krosan Grip
1 Duress
1 Threads of Disloyalty
4 Tormod’s Crypt

These decks play threats which are seeing significant play for the first time in Legacy — Phyrexian Dreadnought and Tombstalker. They also both play Stifle, a design choice frequently debated for its conditionality and reactivity.

II. Dreadtill?

There has been a lot of discussion about how good the Dreadtill deck really is and why. It has a decent list of tournament performances at this point, and it continues to grow in popularity, but many players argue that Stifle is a weak card and the synergies it has in the deck (Wasteland, Phyrexian Dreadnought) aren’t worth the cost of playing with all of those cards. Phyrexian Dreadnought was errata’d a year and a half ago and hasn’t been played before now, and the Trinket Mage engine is much better in the Salvagers combo deck that was played a few years ago. The lack of Tarmogoyfs in a deck that could easily support green, or even the decision to play only three of them, is hard to defend, and calls the rest of the deck’s design into question. Is Dreadtill’s success temporary? What advantages does Dreadtill have, if any, over Threshold decks?

I was initially skeptical of the deck because of Trinket Mage and Stifle, but several months ago I took a closer look at the deck and came up with a few reasons to explain its success. My typical first response to skepticism about this deck is to point out that it gets to support two of the strongest threats in the format right now, Standstill and Counterbalance, and does so with minimal negative synergy. Counterbalance is played primarily in Threshold decks and is arguably the most important card in many of its matchups, and Standstill is played primarily in Landstill decks where it performs an obvious role. These two cards are big threats in the first few turns of the game and can be strong in the later game depending on the situation. They are both very good against Threshold, which is one of the more popular decks in the format.

Dreadtill’s disruption works to support both cards in a similar manner. Landstill supports Standstill with Force of Will, Stifle (in older builds), and Swords to Plowshares, by stopping the opponent’s early plays and making sure Standstill is safe to cast. Threshold supports Counterbalance by playing Force of Will, Daze, and Thoughtsieze, and simply controlling the early game so it can resolve it. Dreadtill cuts Thoughtsieze and Swords to Plowshares, and plays Spell Snare instead. The obvious plan is to attempt to manascrew the opponent or counter their initial threats long enough to resolve Standstill or Counterbalance, and then play to support those cards as much as possible.

Phyrexian Dreadnought is just a convenient way to end the game in two turns after the deck has gained control. It is not obvious that Stifle is good enough to be in the deck and also support this fragile combo (Dreadnought is vulnerable to creature removal and artifact removal, cards like Engineered Explosives, or simply a Counterspell on the Stifle), but it continues to succeed. Apparently, Stifle finds relevant targets often enough in Legacy.

The dual engine of Standstill and Counterbalance is the strength of Dreadtill. The inability to really answer threats and the number of weak cards in the deck are the decks weaknesses.

III. Team America

This deck is much simpler than Dreadtill, and makes the best use of Tombstalker out of any deck yet. Tombstalker is a 5/5 flyer that usually costs two or three mana, and can’t be killed by many of the more popular removal spells, such as Lightning Bolt, Ghastly Demise, Smother, or Snuff Out (which the deck runs itself). It flies over Tarmogoyf battles and gets through Counterbalance easily. Tombstalker has been one of the most underrated cards in the format and I think Legacy is still adjusting to it.

The strategy of this deck is straightforward: play land destruction with Stifle, Sinkhole, and Wasteland, keeping the opponent from playing their more powerful spells, and remove the rest with Thoughtsieze and Snuff Out. Daze and Force of Will both work well with the land destruction theme, keeping the opponent off enough mana to use all the cards in their hand, and trading cards for the threats they do cast while feeding the graveyard and preparing to cast much bigger threats of your own. Ponder and Brainstorm allow the deck to find the right mix of cards, which usually means finding one of the only eight threats in the deck.

Team America runs cantrips and free disruption, much like Threshold, but it does not want to gain complete control of the game. Instead of playing the Counterbalance engine and resilient threats, it plays land destruction and hopes to kill the opponent before they can stabilize their manabase and execute their main strategy.

The low curve and the power to mana ratio of the threats make this possible, and are two of the strongest points of the deck. The low threat density and conditionality of Stifle are two of the weaker aspects of the deck.

IV. Tournament Results

Here are some recent Top 8s that I think show the continued rise in popularity of both of these decks:

11/08, 29 players, Liga Valenciana de Legacy #3
1. Team Europe
2. Dreadtill
3. Landstill
4. Ad Nauseam
5. Affinity
6. 43 Land
7. Burn
8. Goyf Sligh

11/15, 88 players, LCL Badalona
1. Merfolk
2. Threshold
3. Chalice Affinity
4. Pox
5. Ad Nauseam
6. Dreadtill
7. Dreadtill
8. Team America

11/22, 82 players, Danish Legacy Champs
1. Rock
2. Threshold
3. Welder Survival
4. Zoo
5. Team America
6. Merfolk
7. Monoblue Control
8. Deadguy

11/23, 47 players, Finnish Legacy Champs
1. Suicide
2. It’s the Fear
3. Dreadtill
4. Stax
5. Aggro-Loam
6. Threshold
7. Goblins
8. Enchantress

11/29, 67 players, Lliga Catalana Legacy #9
1. Merfolk
2. Team America
3. U/G Faeries
4. Threshold
5. The Rock
6. Goblins
7. Team America
8. Stax

11/29, 58 players, The Mana Leak Open
1. Goyf Sligh
2. Team America
3. Threshold
4. Dreadtill
5. Threshold
6. Ad Nauseam
7. Threshold
8. Team America

12/06, 39 players, Legacy-Liga Magickeller
1. Dreadtill
2. Threshold
3. Ad Nauseam
4. Ad Nauseam
5. Boros
6. Fish
7. Elspeth Control

12/07, 132 players, Legacygeddon II Finale Emilia
1. Team America
2. Doran Rock
3. Threshold
4. Goblins
5. Zoo
6. Dragon Stompy
7. Iggy Pop
8. Goblins

12/13, 65 players, Lliga Catalana Legacy #10
1. Threshold
2. Merfolk
3. Elves
4. Imperial Painter
5. Countersliver
6. Dreadtill
7. Aggro-Loam
8. Survival

12/13, 41 players, Binghamton, NY
1. Landstill
2. Merfolk
3. Team America
4. Landstill
5. Survival Elves
6. Dreadtill
7. Threshold
8. Merfolk

12/21, 33 players, Legacy League Moscow 5
1. Team America
2. Threshold
3. Extended Gifts
4. GW Control
5. Aggro-Loam
6. Trinket Stalker
7. Stax
8. Ichorid

12/21, 41 players, Liga Valenciana de Legacy IV
1. Dreadtill
2. Survival
3. Belcher
4. Affinity
5. Elves
6. Team America
7. Ichorid
8. Ad Nauseam

Most recent events have one or both of these decks in the Top 8. Information about field composition is hard to obtain, but I suspect that these two decks are not nearly as popular as many of the other decks they are outperforming in the Top 8, such as Goblins, Threshold, and Landstill.

IV. Anticipating Chicago

These decks combine two powerful threats — Tombstalker/Tarmogoyf and Standstill/Counterbalance — that cost two, are difficult to answer, and usually represent an advantage of redundancy, as the rest of the decks in the format can only play one of the two. The current designs of these decks are strong enough for now, but I anticipate better designs that exploit these combinations will be developed before the Grand Prix in March.

In addition to the development of these decks, Conflux looks like it is going to offer at least as many interesting cards as Shards of Alara did. I will be investigating the metagame trends and the new cards as we get closer to Chicago.

Christopher Coppola