Who Shot JR?

Wondering what’s been going on in Standard and Legacy lately? Then be sure to read Mike’s analysis of the top decks from the SCG Open Series in Dallas last weekend!

With good reason this website—a bastion of Legacy learning some 52 weeks out of the year—is this week in particular focused on the Eternal format. The Venn diagram of "somewhat rare American Legacy Grand Prix" and "somewhat rare new high-impact Legacy card" is simply falling together in a somewhat-rarer-than-annual combination. Yay.

And at the same time we see some further innovation and evolution from the Standard side!

SCG Standard Open: Dallas


G/R Devotion

Hal Brady took down the Standard Open in Dallas with a pretty straight translation of Makihito Mihara’s Dublin deck. The big things were largely the same, but by playing an additional copy of Domri Rade, Brady’s deck had the ability to play a little bit more explosively off a first-turn Elvish Mystic than the PT original. With nearly fifty percent creatures, this deck can hit pretty consistently with Domri Rade, and with the size of some of those creatures—the monstrous ones in particular—Domri Rade can make for a good fight.

The G/R Devotion deck has substantial advantages against some thick slices of this metagame. Arbor Colossus is a perfect answer to format stalwart Desecration Demon, and the deck is capable of winning numerous types of fair fights due to the size and utility of its creatures. I think the non-presence of Mono-Blue Devotion, with its combination of early drops, evasion, bounce, and tempo-pushing, [this week] was good for the deck.

Brady played a streamlined sideboard with very specific selections: Mistcutter Hydra as a reliable threat against control; Burning Earth to push any slower decks into a corner; and Nylea’s Disciple as a backbreaker that can block for faster ones. Though it was only a one-of in both Mihara’s original build and this one, Destructive Revelry is probably my favorite sideboard card here at least in part due to my nostalgia for pseudo-predecessor Countersquall.

This deck does lots of ways to count up to eighteen Arbor Colossus does six or nine; Nylea and Ruric Thar also hit for sixes. Those last two points—especially when they don’t necessarily have to come by way of The Red Zone—can be surprisingly strategic.

I know that it is "only" a one-of, but consider how a more controlling player might approach G/R Devotion. Though beefier than the typical attack deck, an opponent might call this one a "beatdown deck without reach," meaning that all the opponent has to do is keep the creatures/permanents off the table and one life will be the same as twenty.

Only that doesn’t actually have to be the case. Destructive Revelry you.

W/R Aggro

Ben Lundquist little white men continued to be out in force in Dallas. Berni’s deck stayed pretty true to Ben’s winner from last weekend, though with a noticeable shift at the three from Spear of Heliod to the fourth copy of Ajani, Caller of the Pride.

On the topic of three-mana buff cards, Berni ran Gift of Orzhova in his sideboard (though no Fiendslayer Paladin). Obviously Gift of Orzhova has a similar role when fighting another aggressive deck but some potential additional upside. For example, you can suit up a Precinct Captain (especially if you think your opponent can’t easily do four) and get the Saproling ball rolling.

Matt Tobey moved a number of things around with his W/R implementation—down to two copies of Ajani, up to a pair of Spears (essentially the reverse of Berni), back to Imposing Sovereign over Azorius Arrester—but the biggest difference is probably Boros Reckoner. Boros Reckoner here is a line in the sand; Tobey anticipated aggro and played a card that is very good against it.

R/W Devotion

This is a really powerful and challenging deck.

It can start out attacking from turn 1 with Rakdos Cackler and start assembling pips from there. Unlike Mono-Blue Devotion (which can also start out early), this deck packs three copies of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx central to its maindeck strategy. It can not only rapidly accumulate pips with Burning-Tree Emissary on the two but works its way up to Stormbreath Dragon—and at least in part due to the presence of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx can reasonably go monstrous.

In addition to just being able to hit hard, the R/W Devotion deck can play a number of angles. Assemble the Legion gives it a potent offensive weapon against that one deck that was winning all those tournaments just a few weeks ago. Aurelia’s Fury and Mizzium Mortars give the deck something to do with all that mana (and Aurelia’s Fury specifically acts as a kind of disruption as well as giving this strategy some additional reach). Chained to the Rocks is fast and strategic and does a good job of trading up. Gods are indestructible, but Chained to the Rocks doesn’t care! Thassa, Erebos, whoever: die Die DIE.

The Control Decks

The U/W portion of the metagame continues to put up results week in and week out.

There is a strong argument to be made for these decks’ matchup capabilities across many popular decks. Supreme Verdict as a card is very effective against Mono-Blue Devotion (and its cousins), which largely builds advantages by committing and further committing to the battlefield. Ergo any sweep might be effective but uncounterable sweep particularly so.

With the straight U/W decks moving toward Ratchet Bomb, we see not only flexible answers towards any kinds of threats (up to and including, say, Burning Earth) but also fast answers to Master of Waves. You can just drop a Ratchet Bomb for two after the opponent has committed to Master of Waves, leave the 2/1 body, but take care of 100% of the tokens immediately.

Expect to see these decks winning via a combination of Aetherling, planeswalkers, and possibly Mutavault. Don’t be surprised if U/W opponents are packing all four Sphinx’s Revelations.

The Esper decks have many of the same incentives as the straight U/W but also access to Thoughtseize. This gives the Esper decks some initiative that U/W doesn’t have access to . . . and that speed can translate to other aspects of the business.

Soldier of the Pantheon out of the sideboard is also very quick but potent. When you get lucky, it will act as much more than just a regular stop sign. The goal of a fast drop like this is to buy time; trading one-for-one can forward that strategy, but of course an opponent who starts off Rakdos Cackler into Burning-Tree Emissary is going to get little value out of either.

I think we may see slow decks more and more incorporate cards like Soldier of the Pantheon to their sideboards. Week in and week out we see control decks packing sideboard creatures, be they Aetherlings, Blood Barons, or other heavy hitters. But even when facing other control decks, do they really want another five, six, or seven mana commitment? Soldier of the Pantheon on turn 1 is too fast to Dissolve. The opponent might not have their Ratchet Bombs anywhere near their active stack. You can’t Azorius Charm one, and if—after hitting for six or so damage—one buys a Hero’s Downfall, that might be exactly what your future bomb beaters or planeswalkers want to see. All of that, especially on the play.

Attack you for two.

U/G Devotion

A couple of times since Dublin I have expressed a bit of surprise at the sustained performances of Mono-Blue Devotion; while the closest thing we have to a format boogeyman, Mono-Blue Devotion is nevertheless an eminently attackable deck. This is the first week where we are looking at a major Standard tournament with no such Mono-Blue Devotion deck.

What might be an interesting thing to ponder is whether you would have ever expected someone to commit eight dual lands to two copies of Frilled Oculus. Or any copies of Frilled Oculus.

Fain’s sideboard has some more green cards. Plummet and Fog are angle shooters and problem solvers, especially for a highly redundant swarm deck that mostly wants to commit to the battlefield and attack (and therefore at least sometimes presumably race).

The card Master Biomancer actually gives the deck a different powerful strategy. As long as you have a Master Biomancer, almost any creature starts looking a bit more dangerous and some, like Master of Waves, have a really substantial upside.

We often focus "just" on Top 8 decks from these things, but the Dallas Top 16 had some pretty interesting variations that bear a mention as well.

G/W Tokens

Poor Chris Jabr came in ninth place with this tight little package:

Again we see a deck, like some of the red-based devotion ones, that can attack early but also show off some later-game trumps and staying power.

This deck can start on Elvish Mystic and go straight into a 4/4 Loxodon Smiter.

Or it can play a progressive game around tokens.

Whatever happened to Voice of Resurgence? Wasn’t that one of the best creatures ever printed? Back.

Also at the two id Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage. I think Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage may actually be one of the most underrated creatures in Standard. It gets next to no play but is actually pretty cheap, does some work, and can potentially be quite dominating. Populate is potentially quite powerful, and with a progressing amount of mana, Jabr could potentially populate multiple times per turn with no additional card commitments.

Obviously there is a ton of populate between the deck and sideboard, with many Rootborn Defenses and Druid’s Deliverances acting beating the opponent’s commitments and mana taps at the same time.

B/G Devotion

Just a quick tip of the hat to this Mono-Black Devotion variant. Basically we see a green splash for Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm.

Abrupt Decay has some interesting value in the format; for one, it is the Doom Blade / Ultimate Price that can hit both Pack Rat and Rakdos Cackler. It can fight Underworld Connections, giving the B/G deck a slight advantage in a heads-up situation (I grind better than you do, etc.).

The mana implications of the splash are fairly minimal, but I thought it was interesting that Keith chose to play a pair of Temple of Mysterys. Temple of Mystery of course does not tap for black, but it does still tap for Nightveil Specter while giving the deck valuable first green access.

True-Name Nemesis & Other Legacies

By the last weekday coming off the offending Top 8 and a mere day ahead of the impending Legacy Grand Prix, you probably know that True-Name Nemesis was part of Dallas’ big winning first-place deck.

That said, this particular Top 8 seemed particularly conducive to True-Name Nemesis being successful.


For one thing, True-Name Nemesis was played not only in the winning U/W list but also in the Esper Stoneblade deck and (least surprisingly) in the Merfolk deck. Especially for a new card, it had lots of chances to go for the brass ring.

But for another thing, this was a Top 8 of almost all fair decks.

There was one Ad Nauseam Tendrils deck in the Top 8 with a bunch of different aggro-control decks, some of which played True-Name Nemesis. And though the U/R/W Miracles deck played one Rest in Peace in the sideboard instead of being a combo-control deck that kills with Helm of Obedience, Joe Bass played essentially another Stoneblade variant, just erring more on the side of control than beatdown:

If the competition is largely fair decks, in particular aggro-control, True-Name Nemesis performs at a pretty above-average rate. Look at it against a Delver deck:

Wyatt Archer’s tricky Death’s Shadow deck has all of one way to remove True-Name Nemesis from play in game 1, a Diabolic Edict.

(That Diabolic Edict working has a stack of disclaimers attached to it by the way.)

If the opponent is going to try to race or try to exchange cards on a one-for-one basis, True-Name Nemesis is going to look pretty good. The opponent can’t aim at it or block it. It is guaranteed damage if you want it, which is kind of extra great when an opponent like Archer is going to spend his own cards damaging himself. In the Stoneblade variants, True-Name Nemesis will often be carrying Equipment. Not a recipe for an easy "nobody blocks" game of Magic: The Gathering. In a sense True-Name Nemesis lets a fair deck play somewhat unfairly or at least non-interactively . . . though it might take seven turns to close out such a non-interactive game.

How about the format’s favorite fair fighter?

If anything, the fair-play situation is worse for RUG Delver.

You can’t Spell Snare or Submerge a True-Name Nemesis the way you can a Tarmogoyf. RUG just starts out behind! It is an oddly angled threat just now. Plus many Nemesises are today generally accompanied by Swords to Plowshares. For all its virtues, RUG Delver only has so many threats. Between Swords to Plowshares, Celestial Flare, Snapcaster Mage, and the odd Sword of Fire and Ice connection, a U/W Stoneblade deck can kill them all—even a Nimble Mongoose or two!

It’s arguable of course that True-Name Nemesis fits best into a Merfolk deck:

It is, after all, itself a Merfolk. At least as long as you are correctly reading the format (i.e. you are not predicting a removal/attrition style deck where Kira, Great Glass-Spinner might be the more advantageous three off an Aether Vial), True-Name Nemesis has synergistic value. It sets up Silvergill Adept. It gets bigger off one of the deck’s many lords. It gives you something to do once your Aether Vial has ticked up to three. Plus all the usual stuff.

But like many of the fair decks, Merfolk is actually fairly poorly set up to fight a True-Name Nemesis itself. Merfolk decks have precious little removal to begin with, but Dochnal had none at all.

But if the expected opponent looked more like this . . .

True-Name Nemesis doesn’t really attack a combo deck particularly well. It is a three-power creature for three mana. Unless you are expecting a tussle in The Red Zone or up against an opponent with a huge amount of relevant point removal, True-Name Nemesis is pretty much a Gnarled Mass.


What can it do especially?

Dodge the block? I don’t have any blockers.

Evade removal? I don’t have any removal either.

Is it a consistent clock that won’t take damage? So is almost everything else.

If you’re going to need seven swings with that over ten turns . . . I’m pretty sure I’ve got you.

If your opponent is slinging a combo or controldeck, mightn’t you prefer a Vendilion Clique at 1UU? A Vendilion Clique costs the same but might tear a critical combo piece out of the opponent’s immediate access. It isn’t Invisible Stalker plus, but Vendilion Clique is itself still pretty tough to block.

Just something to think about before you jump all over Ty Thomason’s bandwagon.

One thing this build does have going for it is that it is so accommodating of opposing True-Name Nemesis cards. Celestial Flare, for instance, can kill the allegedly untargetable 3/1.

I in particular like the use of Supreme Verdict in this deck. You don’t always see the aggro-control decks with so much control-control . . . but even in a matchup like aggro-control v. aggro-control, the information you have (knowing you have a Supreme Verdict somewhere) might allow you to win on the battlefield as the opponent overcommits. Much of the time the only option a player will have to win in a standoff will be to play more and more materiel down on the table. If you have a Supreme Verdict, you can use that knowledge to your advantage.

It can be easy to get excited about a brand-spanking shiny True-Name Nemesis, especially given how tournament timing is working hand in hand with the new-set hype machine right now. Just remember that Legacy is a vast format that includes pure beatdown decks as well as turn 2 combo decks. Not every card is an A+ in every matchup, but even more than most this is a card that might excel against some parts but will be quite suboptimal a surprising percentage of the time. Maybe it’s perfect against eighteen lands . . . but what about against one land? 47? This is a card with good points when the opponent gives you time to attack them [seven times?] but is a brick and a clunker at others.

And yes, just to clarify, I would expect to see True-Name Nemesis taking names in a Legacy Top 8 this very weekend. But its success will be at least in part the beneficiary of friendly matchups.


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