Vintage Avant-Garde – B/U/G Tempo and the 2011 Metagame

Friday, December 31st – I’ve had my deck laid out on a table, and an observer glanced at the deck and asked: “A new Vintage list?” If that isn’t a strong initial selling point for this deck, I don’t know what is.

Survival of the Fittest is gone — and personally, I couldn’t be happier about its having gotten banned in Legacy by the DCI last Sunday night. The void left in the wake of the DCI’s
Decree of Bannination

leaves ample room for deckbuilders to try out new strategies that had previously been invalidated by the overwhelming presence of the “Green Machine.” My friends, we are entering into an exciting time in Legacy; we are at the genesis of the “Post-Survival Era.” What is the metagame going to look like without Survival at the wheel?

Last week, I dropped by the local Ann Arbor Legacy tournament at “Get Your Game On” to do battle with the other Michigan Legacy enthusiasts; my weapon of choice was a B/U/G tempo deck, which I piloted to a 5-1 record and a top 4 prize split finish. This article is going to discuss the B/U/G tempo deck, as well as why it may be well positioned to take advantage of the ensuing chaos of the Post-Survival metagame.

So, let’s get down to business—here is the current list of B/U/G that I would play if there was a tournament tomorrow:

On multiple occasions I have had my deck sorted and laid out on a table in front of me, and an observer has walked up taken a glance at the deck on the table and asked: “A new Vintage list?”

If the fact that at a first glance the list looks like it could be a Type I deck isn’t a strong initial selling point for this deck, I don’t know what is. There was a period of time in Vintage, right after Thirst for Knowledge was first restricted, where B/U/G Fish decks with a striking similarity to the B/U/G Tempo deck were extremely potent in the metagame. And having played with and against that archetype, I am familiar with the deck’s inherent strengths and weaknesses. In building and tuning the list, I drew from the model of the Vintage version, but also have tuned the deck for Legacy.

The key to understanding how B/U/G Tempo works is to understand the basic principle that governs all good Tempo decks: we want to have lots of options available to us, yet drastically limit the number of

options available to our opponent.

One thing we notice about the B/U/G Tempo deck is that its mana curve is very low (almost all of the spells cost one or two mana), and is even lower still when we consider that some of the spells (like Daze and Force of Will) can even be cast without paying mana. The low mana curve of the deck, when coupled with cheap permission, hand disruption, mana denial, and cheap efficient threats, all combine to create a scenario where an opponent can’t make the plays he’d ideally want to because he is under pressure and constraint from every possible angle.

Essentially, a tempo deck tries to immediately create a situation where the opponent is behind right from the start of the game. From there, it leverages the strategic advantages inherent in being ahead to try and ensure the opponent can never actually catch up.

As I explain what a tempo deck

, I’m coming to a conclusion; I want to discuss what the B/U/G Tempo deck

Specifically, I’d like to discuss the specific cards that I have chosen to include in this specific list.

The Selection: Brainstorm and Preordain

The inclusion of the maximum number of Brainstorms and Preordains (both cheap one-mana blue cantrips that provide additional card selection) allow the Tempo player to dig for the cards that continue to most effectively constrain an opponent in whatever way is most relevant and devastating. For instance, if an opponent’s behind on mana and facing down a Tarmogoyf, our Preordain is probably digging to find us a Daze or a Wasteland to continue to suppress her ability to climb back into the game. Alternatively, Brainstorm and Preordain can also dig to find more threats to seal up a game against an opponent who’s struggling to find answers to the creature that we’ve already committed to the battlefield.

One tip that I would suggest to Legacy players about cards like Brainstorm and Preordain in a Tempo deck: my general rule for figuring out whether or not I should be casting them (as opposed to doing something else with my mana) is as follows: If I specifically

a card that isn’t in my hand, then use Brainstorm or Preordain to try and find it — or at least to give me more options.

In my experience, blue library manipulation is best served in a Tempo deck within the context of a plan, or to exploit an advantage that you have already begun to break open… And not as a card that you use to figure out what your plan


Of course, there are always exceptions to this very general rule — but, more or less, these are situations that experience helps a pilot to identify.

Brainstorm and Preordain are great at helping a Tempo deck dig to the cards that are good at any particular point in a game.

The Ample Disruption: Thoughtseize

Oh, my goodness — I cannot say enough good things about Thoughtseize in Legacy. After playing around with this deck for a couple of weeks, I feel comfortable saying that the #1 reason to play with B/U/G Tempo is because you get the tremendous privilege of playing with Thoughtseize — and Thoughtseize, pound for pound, might be the best card in Legacy at this exact moment.

First of all, paying one mana and two life to take your opponent’s best card is a super value on the first or second turn. However, it’s even more potent in a tempo deck for a couple of reasons:

1) You get to see their hand.

In a deck where you’re trying to constrain an opponent’s good options, seeing what you’re up against is invaluable. It allows you to see exactly what the most devastating way is to attack an opponent’s unfolding game plan. If we know what our opponent will

to do, we can be one step ahead and dig to the cards that will eventually stop them from ever being able to make the play.

2) It protects our threats.

We can Thoughtseize before we commit one of our threats to the board. This makes sure that the battlefield is safe for Dark Confidant or Tarmogoyf, by putting an end to Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile before they ever have a target for it. Starting a turn with Bob in play and actually getting the free cards is

a powerful effect in this deck, that protecting him with Thoughtseize (or at least knowing to wait until you can protect him with Daze or Spell Pierce) is often a game-dominating line of play.

3) It wrecks the fun of unfair decks

Against Tendrils or Show and Tell decks, simply having a Duress and taking an opponent’s key combo card or enabler is often crippling to their strategy. In the time that it takes them to reacquire the card you denied them, it’s fairly easy to assemble enough disruption to make it impossible for them to fight through and resolve it.

Spell Pierce and Daze

When coupled with Wasteland, I simply cannot say enough good things about Spell Pierce.

Firstly, and most importantly, it protects Dark Confidant from removal —remember, when Bob lives, we probably win.

Secondly, it’s particularly great against opposing Jace, the Mind Sculptors, Natural Orders, Show and Tells, Ad Nauseams, and Elspeth, Knight Errants — all three- and four-mana spells that, if they resolve, generate so much tempo advantage that it undoes everything our Tempo deck is trying to accomplish.

Daze is also great because it puts a land back into our hand for our Brainstorm effects, giving us a free virtual card later in the game. The combination of these two cheap, early-game permission spells can really dig an opponent into a hole, as they render the opponent’s plays in the first three or four turns virtually useless.

Force of Will

Force of Will is really, really, good. I recommend playing it in blue decks.

The Removal: Ghastly Demise

While it won’t help you at all against opposing Dark Confidants or Tombstalkers, I have been very impressed with this card. Most of the time Ghastly demise is a Black “Swords to Plowshares,” but without any sort of drawback whatsoever. The list I am working with only plays three in the main deck, but maxes out with the fourth out of the sideboard in addition to two copies of Smother.

Mostly, Ghastly Demise allows the Tempo deck to remove early-drop creatures from the board while it swings in with Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf. Big creatures that are difficult to race — creatures like Knight of the Reliquary or Rhox War Monk — need to killed in particular. Ghastly Demise kills them nicely.

The Threats: Tarmogoyf

Tarmogoyf is pretty much an auto-include in any G/x Tempo/good stuff deck.

Noble Hierarch

It may seem strange that the B/U/G Tempo deck only plays two copies of this card. Let me start by saying that Hierarch is amazingly good when you draw him in your opening hand. Noble Hierarch’s ability to keep mana production up, while you attack an opponent’s mana with Wasteland (or trade mana advantage for tempo with Daze) is completely unreal awesome.

However, on any turn other than 1, Hierarch is kind of a dud draw… and drawing him in multiples makes our tempo deck drag through the midgame. I resolved that problem by playing only two copies. He will be excellent every time I start with him — but rarely will I be burdened with drawing more later on. When we draw him in the opening hand, he’ll be outstanding—but, we don’t

him in the opener in order to get the party started.

Vendilion Clique

Vendilion Clique is a fantastic tempo card. The three power worth of flying is easily worth the three mana. But more importantly, he allows the tempo deck a good way to race through ground traffic — especially in situations where both players have a Tarmogoyf standoff taking place.

Trygon Predator

He’s just too good of a value to pass up. He’s got good stats, and evasion — but his ability to destroy artifacts or enchantments gives the deck some resiliency to powerful effects that we otherwise wouldn’t have if we simply maxed out on Vendilion Cliques or played with Serendib Efreets.

It isn’t unreasonable to open up with turn 1 Noble Hierarch into a turn 2 Trygon Predator to put pressure on a turn 1 Aether Vial, Sensei’s Divining Top, or even to pre-empt a Counterbalance.

One thing I’ve noticed about Trygon is that he doesn’t always wow me…. but more often than not, he comes through in a really clutch situation. Also, in a Post-Survival world, the two decks that I really feel improve are U/W Landstill/Control decks and Affinity. So, if my prediction is accurate, then Trygon’s stock will continue to rise in the future.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Brainstorm is a really, really, valuable effect in this deck which makes it hard to pass up the opportunity to free-roll a Mind Sculptor. I have also found his fateseal ability useful against opponents who are behind and looking for a specific card to bail them out of a hole.

The Sideboard

Now keep in mind that sideboards should always be tuned for specific expected metagames, and that the value of specific sideboard cards always changes as the metagame evolves. The cards that I have in my sideboard are specifically to address the inherent weakness of the B/U/G Tempo deck against the types of strategies I would expect to face off against.

3 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Extirpate

I like the idea of being strong against graveyard based decks. Graveyard decks generate tempo and card advantage in different ways to more traditional decks, and as a result B/U/G Tempo is often softer to decks like Lands, Reanimator, or Dredge. Having five very good cards to interact with graveyard-based strategies swings these unfavorable matchups to our side by a large margin.

Also, Extirpate is also very good against U/x control decks, as the ability to unburden them of the Swords to Plowshares in their hand as well as deck works strongly in our favor.

2 Krosan Grip

This card is there specifically for Counterbalance, which is very strong against the B/U/G deck if it gets going. Fortunately, B/U/G’s strong anti-non-creature-spell disruption package is pretty good at keeping Counterbalance off the board! Still, having a sideboard back up plan like Krosan Grip is too good an option to pass up.

Also, Grip is a fine card to board in against Enchantress, Affinity, or Control. A fantastic trump!

1 Ghastly Demise
2 Smother
2 Sower of Temptation

B/U/G Fish’s natural metagame predators are decks that are good at dominating the combat step — which is the price that B/U/G pays for being so completely insane against decks that

dominate the combat step. While I don’t think it is unreasonable to steal games from Merfolk or Zoo pre-sideboard (our nut draws are, in fact, nutty), we are certainly behind and want to improve our margin in games two and three.

The best way to improve is simply to load up on cards that directly attack their advantage — namely, their creatures. Hence, the largest sideboard package that I would recommend bringing revolves around bringing in lots of removal for critter decks.

3 Null Rod


If the Affinity deck picks up steam and metagame presence without Survival to beat it back, I believe that cards like Null Rod and Kataki, War’s Wage will start seeing play out of the sideboard. B/U/G Fish’s worst matchup (by far — it isn’t close) is Affinity with Etched Champion. I’ve played against it…. and unfortunately, short of anything miraculous happening, it is pretty much an auto-loss.

Thus, I am happy to devote three slots in my sideboard to Null Rods to help beat all of those Metal-Heads out there.

Post-Survival Metagame Predictions, And Why I Like The B/U/G Deck Right Now

Now that the overwhelming tournament presence of Survival of the Fittest in Legacy is at an end, we can almost certainly expect some metagame shift to take place in the near future. The most logical place to begin predicting what such a shift might look like is to think about decks that were completely invalidated by a large Survival metagame presence.

Despite my tendency to say: “Decks invalidated by Survival — isn’t that ‘everything else’?” There

decks that really suffered from Survival’s presence.

Blue, White, X-Control/LANDSTILL (Value Improves Drastically)

Blue Control decks were perhaps the most affected by Survival’s rise to dominance, because they simply didn’t have the tools to beat a resolved Survival. Essentially being all-in on stopping every two-drop enchantment from entering the battlefield (especially against decks that played Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy), was

the battle line anybody wanted to draw. (Well, except for the hardest core of control mages!)

But now that Survival is gone, I’d expect control mages to feel safe to practice their craft in Legacy. The individual card that I believe improves most in metagame value as a result of Survival’s banning is Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Affinity (Value Increases, At Least Immediately)

Affinity decks were just a hair too slow (and not disruptive enough) to compete with a metagame full of Survival Combo decks. But without Survival around to crush all of the Affinity decks, I expect this strategy to pick up a lot of steam in the near future.

Affinity is great a crushing the residual creature decks from the Survival Era (Zoo and Merfolk) and is deceptively decent against control decks: “Do you have a Swords or Path for my Ornithopter with Cranial Plating on it? No?

Affinity is good, but answers to it are insanely efficient. I would recommend Null Rod, Kataki, War’s Wage, Energy Flux, and Ancient Grudge — for starters. Once Affinity earns the respect of Legacy players, if it comes to that, there is more than ample hate to beat it back down. Nonetheless, I predict it will enjoy success in the near future.

Show and Tell Decks (Value Increases, People Want To Do Broken Stuff…)

People who want to be degenerate that can’t play with Survival of the Fittest will probably gravitate towards working with Show and Tell. Show and Tell is amazing against any sort of aggro (at least a non-disruptive, Fishfolk) strategy.

Zoo (Value Goes Down)

When control comes, back Zoo gets worse. Zoo is still good, in the sense that it is a powerful deck and capable of doing powerful things — But I can’t foresee that more copies of Swords to Plowshares in the metagame makes playing Zoo any easier…

Merfolk (Value Increases)

Why is it that the value of Merfolk always seems to be on the rise? If Landstill and Control are the most improved decks, and those decks are good against Zoo, it only makes sense that Merfolk is going to continue to be good. The thing about Merfolk is that they are resilient little critters.

B/U/G Tempo (Value Increases)

B/U/G Tempo is nicely positioned in such a metagame because it is very good against the control and combo decks that are likely to be good performers. I believe that B/U/G tempo is well-positioned for the same reasons that Merfolk is well-positioned — in fact, of all the major archetypes in Legacy, B/U/G is most similar to a Merfolk deck — both are disruptive agro/tempo decks.

The difference is that B/U/G Tempo has more room to actually play, as it is less linear and straightforward than Merfolk. Personally, I don’t enjoy playing Merfolk in a tournament (though I am more than willing to admit it is a fantastic deck) and prefer to play decks where I have a little bit more “play.” Cards like Brainstorm and Preordain certainly provide B/U/G Fish ample ability to see a lot of cards, and to have the right card at the right time, whereas Merfolk are reliant upon the top of the deck through the midgame.

Personally, I have been very impressed with the B/U/G Tempo deck thus far, and really enjoyed playing it in test games as well as in the one tournament I played it in. More than anything, what I enjoy the most about the deck is that it gives its pilot a lot of good options, and really rewards good decision-making throughout a match.

The other thing I like about the deck is that there are a lot of ways that it could be tweaked to perform better in a specific metagame — which is to say that building the deck is left more open-ended in the way that tuning a Landstill or Control deck is, as opposed your limited options in tuning a Merfolk deck.

Over the past few weeks I have tried out a lot of different configurations of the deck — and though I feel comfortable that the list in the article is at this moment the most stable build I have mustered, it is possible that other configurations could prove profitable in a specific metagame.

So here’s a list of some of the cards that tested well, but due to the constraint of deck size, it didn’t make the final cut. Perhaps some of these choices will appeal to some readers more than they appealed to me.

One Mana

Two Mana

Three Mana

Sideboard Cards I Have Tested And Liked

So there are clearly a lot of ways to build this deck and to tune it over time.

My New Year’s Eve Toast for Legacy:

“Survival of the Fittest, 2010 was yours; though ye are not fit for Legacy anymore.”

See you all next year.

Brian DeMars