Why do we play Magic? Well, that might be a topic for a bit of a more philosophical article, but I’d like to touch on why I do.
Much like my own outlook on life, my reasons for playing this game have changed in my relatively short five years with the game. I used to want to prove
that I can excel at something. I wanted to be as good as that guy who kept attacking me with lands and played creatures on my turn, so that eventually, I
might be crowned as the heralded champion of FNM too one day.
Now that I’m so ensconced in this Magical world of Planes, trades, and
, my stretch goals are a little different. I want to explore what is possible within this game and design my own cards. I want to marvel at the art, relish
in the stories, and see friends every weekend as we battle for honor and glory.
Well, before I approach The Karate Kid levels of waxing, I want to divulge one of my more recent 75 card lists. If you’ve seen me play in a Legacy
tournament recently, I was more than likely have playing my BUG Planeswalkers deck. And before I hear cries of ヽ༼ຈل͜ຈ༽ﾉ DECKLIST OR RIOT ヽ༼ຈل͜ຈ༽ﾉ, here you
- 4 Brainstorm
- 3 Hymn to Tourach
- 4 Cabal Therapy
- 4 Pernicious Deed
- 4 Innocent Blood
- 1 Ponder
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
While it may not contain 100 cards like most of the decks I’ve ever created, it’s by far one of the most fun I’ve ever played.
If you’re more the Youtube kind, you can view the deck tech done with my buddy Nick Miller during the Knoxville (insert Alma Mater reference here) Open.
If you’d like to see the two ends of the gameplay spectrum this deck can create, this first link is a good example of how most of my matches go against
fair decks, despite me not grasping the immense depth that is Helm of Obedience’s Oracle text.
And on the other hand, this is what happens when I play against a combo deck (or Tyler Wilkerson on camera for that matter).
So now that you’ve seen what this deck can (and can’t) do, how did it exactly come to be?
I wanted to abuse Veteran Explorer once I realized that basically (ha!), most decks run zero basic lands. Look at decks such as Delver, Shardless BUG, and
Deathblade; none of them run any basic lands. Half of the other decks that do (Jund, Death and Taxes, other fair decks) have no real way to utilize the
basic lands, or if they do (Bloodbraid Elf, Batterskull. etc), they use them in a much inferior way to our deck. That’s what our deck is designed to do!
There’s a type of deck that has been using Veteran Explorer and has found a Nic(e) Fit for the Legacy metagame. David Gleicher, along with others, have
even started to put Birthing Pod in their Veteran Explorer creature decks
! I came very close to just playing that for The Pod is one of my favorite cards of all time. It has a high skill cap, greatly rewards deck building and
resource management, and is entirely too much fun. But even with its Modern ubiquity, you’re still paying four mana and using creatures for slow effects in
So, I wanted to up the ante with my personal favorite card type:
As it turned out, Drew Levin had already sketched a rough draft of what a Planeswalker centric
Veteran Explorer would look like. When you make as many decks as he does, you never know which one might turn out to be a hit! It originally had red for a
Punishing Fire package. I ended up cutting it because I definitely didn’t need to kill more creatures, and my Planeswalkers didn’t need much help ending
the game. Being able to kill opposing Planeswalkers was the one thing I miss about it, but oftentimes they would have already done too much harm to me
before I slowly shot them down using a land that was a prime target for Wastelanding.
Besides the walkers we have the Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy combo. Gitaxian Probe is one of my favorite cards ever printed. While most of us probably
wouldn’t enlist the help of Street Wraith to start at 12 life and play a 56 card deck, I would very much like to know what I’m up against. Seriously, just
take out the three worst spells and a land, and add four Gitaxian Probes. In a non-aggro metagame, you’ll find out that if you’re able to use the new
information you are given, your deck could become better! And if it’s worse, it will only be barely worse. Introducing Gitaxian Probe into your life can
get you into thinking about what’s in your opponent’s hands, and by extension, their head. It used to be scary to me just how well the top players can
predict what’s in their opponent’s hands, and now that I’ve somewhat begun to see the Magic Matrix, I am constantly running through my head all the
variable data during a match (what’s in their hand and their deck, what the odds are that I’m going to draw a specific card, how they boarded, etc.). These
are just training wheels to use on your way to magnificence.
TL;DR: I love Gitaxian Probe more than I love dressing up as a wizard and marathoning Harry Potter.
Meanwhile, Cabal Therapy will make you feel like a Jedi. The secret is not to guess what they have in their hand at the current time, but to name the card that will beat you. Many times I have not gone hard to the paint and tried to hit a card that I knew they had. Of course, Brainstorm
can Muddle this Mixture, and sometimes you just fire it off on turn 1 and name the aforementioned instant. You just have to let it go, and feel out what is right. Or sometimes you just happen to hear them
talking about their deck beforehand and get them good.
And you thought that was going to be a Frozen link, didn’t you?
The rest of the deck is just a smattering of Dimir goodstuff. Innocent blood (the black Swords to Plowshares) is not very common in Legacy due to most
black control decks running Deathrite Shaman. I have no such creature, and I often turn the symmetrical sacrifice into an advantage–one of the key
theories of deck building! In a ramp deck such as this, Brainstorm is especially powerful as it homogenizes the mixture of lands and action, and Veteran
Explorer ups the number of shuffle effects. Baleful Strix is there for Cabal Therapy sacrifice number five, and likewise, Ponder is Brainstorm number five.
The Hymn to Tourachs are the cards I keep waffling out about. I want ways to remove Planeswalkers and ways to actually interact with combo decks game 1.
Every game of Magic is winnable. Thoughtseize is the alternative, which gives me better control over Cabal Therapy, and can actually hit what matters,
unlike Hymn which is incredibly powerful, but sometimes they pitch two Swords to Plowshares, and you’ve accomplished exactly nothing. I would recommend a
switch moving forward.
As you might guess, some cards are better at certain points of the game. This deck is very threat dense, which means it’s great against discard and
countermagic against decks with little to no pressure, but the ‘ol double Karn opening isn’t for the faint of heart.
Speaking of Grand Daddy Liberated, he’s the apex of fun in this deck. There’s very little he can’t do, and perhaps the greatest part of playing this deck
is seeing your opponent’s face when it resolves:
They always make the same one.
Once against B/W Stoneforge, my opponent knew what was up and had surgically Extracted my Jaces, leaving me with no real win conditions. Thankfully I was
up a game, and Karn had entered the arena and had immediately gotten to work exiling Dark Confidants and anything else that stood in his path. I meanwhile
had Surgically Extracted the Vindicate that had slain my Mind Sculptor, and knew that he had exactly zero ways of defeating my Silver Golem. I was then
content with ticking Karn up and down for about twenty turns. I was afraid of restarting the game and possibly dying to the Dark Confidants, and since I
was progressing the game in my five-second turns, I was able to finish the match with about a baker’s dozen of cards underneath my Planeswalker. That’s a
Of course, I would have to say the strongest card in this deck is not Jace, the Mind Sculptor (Sorry Chapin), not Karn Liberated (Sorry Cedric), and
definitely not Gitaxian Probe (Sorry PSulli), but the most iconic picture of Freyalise:
Most decks cannot beat even a single activation of this card. True-Name Nemesis. Tarmogoyf. Batterskull. Goblin Tokens. Llanowar Elf. Mishra’s Factory.
Dark Confidant. Sneak Attack. Counterbalance. They all fall to the power of the Deed (just don’t Stifle me bro). In fact, it literally kills everything!
Except for, of course, Planeswalkers. This is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Just as my board is unmarred by Urza’s Soul Bombs, my
opponent’s walkers survive as well. I’ve resorted to playing Notion Thief and Vendilion Clique in order to combat them, and have even brought in 23rd-pick
limited card staple Negate to try to prevent them from resolving (Spell Pierce and Veteran Explorer aren’t exactly on speaking terms). Perhaps something
like Maelstrom Pulse or Beast Within is an option? If anybody has any other ideas, please let me know!
So besides other Planeswalkers, what exactly is this deck bad against? One word: Combo. And I’m not talking the Pepperoni Pizza or Nacho Cheese kind. As it
turns out, eight completely dead cards (Pernicious Deed and Innocent Blood) don’t match up well against Narcomoeba or Tendrils of Agony and the like. So
yes, you will more than likely lose game 1, but post board games are even more lopsided in your favor. There’s a reason we play more sideboarded games than
not. Since I rarely board much versus fair decks, I have about thirteen slots I can dedicate for combo matchups of all shapes and sizes! It is in the board
that you will find Force of Wills and a whole slew of other countermagic. In these matchups, you often board out the little Explorer that could, and let
your win conditions be your pitchable-to-Force-of-Will-creatures, and just turn into U/B HATERADE.
Regarding the board, Ensnaring Bridge is indeed a maindeckable card. Heck, it might be right to do so, but it has the risk of dying to your own Pernicious
Deed, and creatures aren’t really what you’re worried about with this deck. I’m not a big fan of a sideboarding guide as there are too many variables to
consider (play vs draw, what you showed you opponent, what you think they think you are playing, etc), but after a few games of this deck, you should know
what’s good and what’s not as good. Honestly the only trouble I ever have is how many Cabal Therapies to keep in against other fair decks where your
Veteran Explorers aren’t quite as unbelievably busted.
Strategically, I can say things such as “Play Veteran Explorer, then Flashback Cabal Therapy so it doesn’t get Swords to Plowshared,” or “Notion Thief is
better as an attacker than a counterspell.” But they don’t amount to much. The best way to gain experience is through a hands-on approach. I know that
Legacy is expensive, but in a format where you are given a near infinite amount of options, forging a victory is not only more difficult, but it’s more
rewarding. This deck is somewhat known, so it loses some of that fabled “Rogue Factor,” but it’s still a blast to play and honestly pretty dang good too!
I’ve learned that playing purely to win is not my “Way of the Mage” anymore. I tried listening to far superior magicians here in Roanoke regarding what to
play in the Season Two Invitational. It was then I realized that for me, I have goals other than just turning in a match slip. I want to create my own
stories. I want find new interactions and try to understand this game to the best of my ability. Above all, I want to have fun.
After all, it is just a Trading Card GAME.