Unlocking Legacy – U/G Threshold versus Cephalid Breakfast Matchup Analysis

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Today, Doug takes a look at two of the hottest new decks from Gencon and evaluates how they play against each other. Find out whether the Aether Vials in Cephalid Breakfast can create an inevitability that Threshold cannot match, or if the Spell Snares from the other side of the table are simply too much to combo out against! Take part in the forum and discuss whether Doug made the right plays or if his sideboarding plans were incorrect!

As I write this, Vladimir Putin is taking steps to dissolve the Russian government. By the time you read this, we’ll either have tanks firing on Parliament again or business as usual. What interesting times we live in!

Gencon brought what was to be expected: lots of Tarmogoyfs, a few new decks and some twists on classics. Threshold is obviously now the deck to beat. While Peter Olszewski’s U/G Threshold deck lacks the traditional board control elements found in White- and Red-splash, it packs a serious amount of disruption in the maindeck, making the possibility of sticking something on the table harder for opponents.

Also gaining steam is a Legacy Cephalid Breakfast deck utilizing Narcomoeba and Dread Return for a much-streamlined combo over previous versions. Adam Barnello wrote an excellent introduction to the deck recently, so if you are unfamiliar with how the deck ticks, click on over and brush up on it (and incidentally, calamari is one of my favorite foods. It can be tricky to prepare but it’s definitely worth it; I suggest this recipe, finishing with a spritz of fresh lemon juice).

Today, I’m mashing the two decks against each other to test their limits. Several forum posters had previously expressed an interest in how to sideboard with these decks, so we’ll be taking a heuristic approach to sideboarding. I’ve recruited teammate and Legacy veteran Rian Litchard to sling cards on the U/G Threshold side of the table, while I pilot Cephalid Breakfast. I asked him to write down his thoughts going into the matchup and did the same myself. The following is what we came up with:

Cephalid Breakfast: My thoughts

Who is the beatdown? Now this is a sticky question. I would assume that since I’m comboing, I’m the one going to be applying pressure. Threshold has an amazing ability to press threats through while maintaining a lot of control As Adam Barnello says, this is a very rough match for Cephalid Breakfast, so I’m not expecting shining results.

What cards do you fear from the opponent? Primarily, Spell Snare. It’s an amazing counter against this deck. I think I mostly fear a combination of cards, though. If the opponent is holding Force of Will, Daze, and Snapback when I try to combo off, I’m going to have a very hard time punching through that, as I realistically only have two Cabal Therapy shots, one of which is blind.

What cards are central to your strategy? Aether Vial is my #1 best buddy in this match. It’s a permanent, which is hard for this kind of Threshold to handle, and it lets me cheat through their Stifles and Wastelands and still pull out a win. I’m considering mulliganing into them if I can afford to.

What is your sideboarding strategy? Well, mine is a reaction to what I expect from U/G Threshold, which is Counter-Top. I’ll be boarding in some number of either Krosan Grips or Pernicious Deeds, depending on how confident I am that Counter-Top is actually coming in. I expect to see it, meaning my Grips won’t be dead. If I were unsure of what the opponent would be bringing in and wasn’t completely sure about it, I’d bring Deeds in instead. I want to fit in Abeyances, but I don’t think I’ll have too much room for them. I boarded out two copies of Worldly Tutor and one copy of Lim-Dul’s Vault. My premonition was that because both are card-disadvantage tutors, I’m going to be a ways back if the threat I tutored for does not resolve. On top of that, both are great targets for Daze, and the latter, Spell Snare. I brought in three Krosan Grips.

Threshold: Rian’s thoughts

Who is the beatdown? The Threshold player is liable to be the beatdown. With my permission, I can stop the combo pretty easily, so I force Breakfast into being a bad aggro deck.

What cards do you fear from your opponent? Aether Vial and sometimes Tarmogoyf.

What cards are central to your strategy? Tarmogoyf, Force of Will and Brainstorm. It should be pretty self-explanatory, but they’re incredibly efficient and get the job done.

What is your sideboarding strategy? I’ll be taking out some of the slower parts of the cantrip base and replacing it with Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top. I’m also taking out a single Daze for space issues and bringing in two Krosan Grips; Aether Vial is really the only card I fear. That yields: -4 Portent -1 Daze -4 Predict +4 Counterbalance +3 Top +2 Grip.

For reference, these are the lists we are using:

Rian and I played several matches to get the hang of how the decks work against each other. We talked through optimal plays and strategies, and I was very surprised at the outcome of these matches! Below, you’ll find highlights of four matches that we played; I think they are demonstrative of the strengths and limitations of both decks.

Match 1, Game 1: Rian is on the play.

I keep the hand of: Tundra, Aether Vial, Narcomoeba, Shaman En-Kor, Worldly Tutor, Cephalid Illusionist, Lim-Dul’s Vault. Pretty good, especially if I can get Vial to stick. That would lead to an easy turn 4 win without having to play any subsequent spells.

Rian leads with a Tropical Island. I respond with Tundra, Aether Vial. He Dazes it; my notes show the comment “I lose here.” It would be portentous; Vial lets me sneak so much through his counters that I end up having a good chance.

Later, Rian lands a Tarmogoyf. I play a Cephalid Illusionist; he Spell Snares it. I Force of Will back, but he Spell Snares it again! I end up dying shortly afterwards when my Shaman and another Illusionist that I had drawn are both countered.

Game 2:

I mulligan a no-lander into Aether Vial, Dread Return, Tarmogoyf, Sutured Ghoul, Worldly Tutor, Tropical Island. It’s an awful hand, but I can make potentially two Tarmogoyfs and kill with those. The hardest part would be landing a Vial. I managed to get a Vial on the board. Rian’s subsequent Wastelands were irrelevant when I drew a second Tarmogoyf. With two charge counters on my Vial, I mount an incredible offense with my uncounterable Lhurgoyfs. He has Rushing River to stall for a turn, but ends up dead on the board.

Game 3:

Rian and I enter the third game; I have to mulligan a hand with no business into a no-lander into Force of Will, Narcomoeba, Cabal Therapy, and two Polluted Deltas. I mounted a valiant defense here but I drew all the wrong cards. I was quickly overwhelmed.

Match 2, game 1: Rian is on the play.

I mulligan a hand with no business into a no-lander hand. My five cards I settle on are Tarmogoyf, Worldly Tutor, Brainstorm, Polluted Delta, and Tropical Island.

Rian plays a Breeding Pool untapped, which is a huge sign to me that he has Stifle in his hand. I play Tropical Island and pass the turn. He plays another land and then Nimble Mongoose. I want to play around Stifle but I have to play and crack my fetchland so I can get some pressure on with Tarmogoyf at least. As I predicted, my activation is Stifled. I can only play Nomads En-Kor and pass the turn.

Rian Portents me, shuffling back what was apparently two Tarmogoyfs and a Brainstorm! He attacks and then I play Lim-Dul’s Vault. He has to Daze it twice to counter it, but in the process he ends up with threshold. He lands a Werebear and the beats start coming. I make a desperation play of Echoing Truth on his Werebear but it, along with a chump-blocking Narcomoeba, just forestalls the inevitable.

Game 2: I am playing.

I draw a spectacularly bad hand of Dragon’s Breath, Krosan Grip, Narcomoeba, Dread Return, Sutured Ghoul, Tropical Island and Underground Sea! I mulligan this into the better hand of Tundra, two Force of Wills, Flooded Strand, Lim-Dul’s Vault and Nomads En-Kor. I play my Nomads out and a turn later, play Lim-Dul’s Vault. Rian Dazes it and I have to Force of Will to resolve it. I stack a particularly juicy five cards on top – Cephalid Illusionist, Worldly Tutor, Tarmogoyf, Force of Will, and Krosan Grip. I’ll be able to Tutor into another Illusionist if I have to, and it that doesn’t resolve then I can bank on Tarmogoyf. I had my Illusionist countered and then my Tropical Island Wastelanded. Like finding out that you don’t fit into your prom dress the night before the ball, I sat helplessly while I was destroyed by big Green creatures, knowing that my fate was sealed.

Match 3, Game 1: I am on the play.

I open a hand of Force of Will, two Tropical Islands, Narcomoeba, Tarmogoyf, Brainstorm and Cabal Therapy. On first turn, I play Brainstorm into a busty Aether Vial, Force of Will and Lim-Dul’s Vault. I put back Narcomoeba with Vault on top of it. Rian Wastelands my Tropical Island. The mana-denial component of U/G Threshold is significant in this matchup.

Luckily, I have the Force of Will to protect my turn 2 Aether Vial against his Force of Will. Rian Wastes my next land but I made Vial stick, so I’ll win this. I end up ramping my Vial to 2 counters; Rian asks me to make a Tarmogoyf and kill him. I oblige, playing Tarmogoyf and pounding into a mana-screwed Threshold opponent for the win.

Aether Vial was the only reason I won this game.

Game 2:

Rian plays a Nimble Mongoose and passes the turn. I play a Tundra and a Nomad En-Kor. Rian then attacks me and I cast Lim-Dul’s Vault, passing up a few Illusionists until I find one with Worldly Tutor in the five-card pile. I end up not having to use it though, as my Illusionist gets through and I combo out (finally!) on Rian.

Match 4, game 1: I am again on the play.

I keep a hand of Tropical Island, Flooded Strand, two Cephalid Illusionists, Tarmogoyf, Aether Vial and Cabal Therapy. All you need to know about this game is that I made Aether Vial hit play on the first turn and then two Tarmogoyfs finished off Rian. It was a rare moment of victory.

Game 2:

This game is also insignificant; I played a lot of lands, but Rian killed six of them. I finally raw-dogged the Illusionist that I needed to win, but he had a Force of Will and I died the next turn.

Game 3:

In this one, Rian plays out an early Counterbalance. I test it with Aether Vial. Seeing only a Wasteland on top, I play out a Shaman En-Kor, which runs into Spell Snare. Rian then Krosan Grips my Aether Vial and I draw Dragon Breath on the turn before Tarmogoyf kills me. Have you heard how good that creature is?

So in these ten example games, I only cracked off my combo once. Most of my pressure came from Tarmogoyfs. What can I say? Adam Barnello was right – this is an abysmal match for Cephalid Breakfast. Their counters are exactly the right kind to ruin your day and the mana denial side strategy is Dethklok-level brutal. My plan of mulliganing into Aether Vial didn’t work so well because I was cursed with really bad opening hands that required mulligans anyway. I couldn’t take the luxury of voluntary mulligans, as I had to get myself down to five cards in hand often just to be able to have a shot at playing the game. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by how good Tarmogoyfs were in the matchup.

I often found myself with too few cards in hand. What I mean by this is that I would be looking at Vault, for example, and be unable to pull anything together with it because it would be several turns before I could draw the elements that I needed. I’m not sure what the deck would need exactly, but I felt a distinct lack of Dark Confidant. There were also rare times when the manabase was unforgiving. One could drop the Tarmogoyfs for Jotun Grunt and stay in three colors, but I don’t know whether it’s worth sacrificing good cards in other matches to improve this one. In the wise, paraphrased words of Richard Mattiuzzo, “pick a deck you’re going to lose to and lose to it with dignity. You can’t make a sideboard for every match.”

With the boom in popularity of Threshold decks, my gut feeling is that Cephalid Breakfast is going to have a hard time taking home the bacon. However, I leave the door open for mistakes on my part. This is where you, loyal reader and forum poster, come in. Did I sideboard wrongly? Should I be using a different maindeck? Are there any big improvements for Cephalid Breakfast that would make the match slightly more balanced? I’d love to hear your responses!

Doug Linn
Hi-Val on the series of tubes
Special thanks to Rian and the fine folks on themanadrain.com