SCG CON Cincinnati last weekend was a blast from the past. The Team Constructed $25K featured some stacked teams with a lot of fan favourites fighting for DreamHack invites and a nice chunk of change. I had the pleasure of being in the booth on Anuraag Das’s stream for the end of the tournament, and watching Gerry Thompson face off against Noah Walker in a Legacy Death’s Shadow mirror felt like I was reliving my pre-pandemic glory days – even if all the formats have changed beyond recognition since then. There’s nothing quite like Team Trios at its best, and this was a reminder of why I was so keen to go on ridiculous road trips for these tournaments.
Modern and Legacy in particular are still processing the impact of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, but it’s worth touching on Pioneer quickly.
Azorius Lotus Field
Azorius Lotus Field is officially a mainstay of Pioneer and was a popular choice for the successful teams here. I was Patrick Wu’s first victim in his dominant performance at the Regional Championship in Toronto that put him and his creation on the map, and I broke down the deck in detail at the time.
Wu made the long trek from Quebec with his friends to play in Cincinnati and backed up his bold claims with yet another big finish.
- 4 Mayhem Devil
- 3 Cauldron Familiar
- 1 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 4 Bloodtithe Harvester
- 3 Unlucky Witness
- 4 Mayhem Devil
- 3 Cauldron Familiar
- 1 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 4 Bloodtithe Harvester
- 4 Unlucky Witness
Rakdos Sacrifice has been a known quantity for longer, but only recently gained the respect and popularity it deserves after strong finishes across the board at the Regional Championships. By now you’re more likely to face Rakdos Sacrifice than Rakdos Midrange – and the former’s good matchup against the latter is one of many reasons for that.
The bad news for Rakdos Sacrifice players is that they have to shell out for several copies of The Meathook Massacre. This Commander all-star and Standard exile is now a crucial card in Pioneer as the best plan for the Mayhem Devil mirror, neutering your opponent’s Cauldron Familiar loops while enhancing your own and letting you profit from all the sacrificing and trading of creatures that happens in these exhausting games. Massacre’s popularity reinforces itself – given the lack of good answers to enchantments in the Rakdos colours, the best answer to an opposing Massacre is to cancel it out with your own.
It’s also a powerful tool against the other creature decks, from former flavour of the month Boros Convoke to the new Boros Pia deck and a Pioneer staple in Mono-White Humans. Rakdos Sacrifice is already great against these decks – yet another reason for its recent success – but the help is still welcome.
If you insist on staying with Rakdos Midrange, Massacre is the best way to get an edge against Rakdos Sacrifice and also gives you some insurance against decks like Boros Convoke that try to go wide to overwhelm your targeted removal.
Would it surprise you to hear that the first seed after the Swiss featured Brad Nelson in the Pioneer seat playing Mono-Green Devotion? If your answer is that this is the least surprising outcome of all time and that you want something original, skip ahead to the Legacy segment!
After the initial hype over The One Ring, Orcish Bowmasters is challenging its claim to the title of best Modern card in the set (or maybe best Modern card period). Golgari Yawgmoth has gladly adopted the card as a source of multiple bodies for Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and Chord of Calling that excels in fair games. A strange breed of Dimir Control featuring Bowmasters took Magic Online (MTGO) by storm this weekend. If you’re in black, you’re into Bowmasters.
Bowmasters found a natural home in the Rakdos Evoke deck that was a top contender in Modern before and seems like the clear best deck now. One thing it sorely needed was another cheap threat for games where you can’t swindle them with your Evoke plan. Other options missed the mark – Bloodtithe Harvester’s reach doesn’t extend quite this far – but Bowmasters is a perfect fit. The One Ring is excellent against Rakdos Scam, but Bowmasters lines up well against it, assuming you can apply other pressure quickly.
This deck’s raw power and access to strong hate cards even in the maindeck leads to a lot of easy wins and makes it the perfect choice for less experienced Modern players as well as veterans with their eye on the prize. Almost half of the twenty teams on Day 2 were fast and furious in their Modern seat!
The only thing less surprising than Brad Nelson winning with the stock best deck is Corey Baumeister crushing it with his beloved Jeskai Breach. The One Ring is a massive upgrade for this deck too, both overall and against the previously poor Rakdos Evoke matchup.
It’s a rare treat to see competitive Legacy in this form, and this batch of Legacy decks certainly delivers. Since my column checking in on Legacy just a few weeks ago, a lot has changed thanks to The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth and its Commander release.
Orcish Bowmasters, Again
If Orcish Bowmasters was a big deal for Modern, it’s an absolute game-changer for Legacy. It makes sense that Bowmasters would shine in the format where Brainstorm is all-important, but small creatures are everywhere too, from Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Delver of Secrets in the tempo decks to Nomads en-Kor and Cephalid Illusionist in one of the premier combo decks. Staff of the Storyteller is embarrassing when drawing a card lets the Bowmasters shoot the token that enabled that in the first place – but Bowmasters is also the perfect partner for Staff of the Storyteller!
Bowmasters’s main targets are, of course, other Bowmasters – the card’s own popularity becomes a feedback loop that ends with it as a format-definer.
Staples on the Downswing
Many Legacy staples have to consider a career change in light of Orcish Bowmasters. Griselbrand can no longer be the best Reanimate target when paying seven life to draw seven means you lose another seven right away, and maybe another extra seven if the massive Orc Army gets to attack. Four life was already a steep price to pay for Sylvan Library and now that tax just got hiked. Using Mishra’s Bauble and Urza’s Bauble to fuel Thoughtcast and Thought Monitor is brave in this new world, too.
Bowmasters is a big deal in the big picture. Brainstorm is still the king of Legacy and that won’t ever change short of a ban, but it and its common accomplices like Ponder are finally getting some powerful pushback. There is precedent for cards that punish you for drawing more, but these were either narrow, such as Spirit of the Labyrinth, or blue themselves, as with Narset, Parter of Veils; Hullbreacher; and Leovold, Emissary of Trest. Bowmasters is a flexible, powerful response to this class of card that you’re keen to put in your maindeck.
Back in Black
It also matters a lot that Bowmasters is black. Not so long ago, black was by far the weakest colour in Legacy, and even the decks with easy access to any colour thanks to Arcum’s Astrolabe (or just the usual stack of fetchlands and dual lands) didn’t bother to dabble in black. Modern Horizons 2 started to reverse that trend, and the dam has finally burst with Bowmasters.
Reanimator ensures that black is well-represented in the combo corner along with Doomsday, but the card Reanimate is showing up more and more in a fair context. This caught on in Dimir and Sultai decks with colourful value targets like Baleful Strix; Grist, the Hunger Tide; and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, but the trend spread from there. In heavy black decks, Grief is the ideal partner for Reanimate again, and Dauthi Voidwalker stands out as a game-warping effect attached to a creature that either forces removal or sacrifices itself.
The importance of Bowmasters in turn boosts Reanimate. You want to have a Bowmasters lined up to kill theirs, creating an incentive to hold your copy until after they start shooting. Reanimate ensures you always have the second Bowmasters – and you can turn their own copy against them if necessary! Reanimate also has this self-perpetuating property – if many of the fair decks have enough targets to support Reanimate, you can be sure that your own copies can steal something relevant, even if you haven’t binned a good creature yet. Having a brutally effective card against the most popular combo deck doesn’t hurt either – the only thing better than casting Reanimate on an eight-drop is casting it on your opponent’s eight-drop that they went out of their way to put in the graveyard for you.
Dimir Death’s Shadow
Dimir Death’s Shadow was the story of the tournament and the Legacy choice for its most distinguished players, including Gerry Thompson and tempo master Noah Walker. Walker’s list resembles the familiar Shadow decks dating back to their breakout at Grand Prix Richmond and Pro Tour 25th Anniversary in 2018, with the natural additions of Orcish Bowmasters and Murktide Regent. Thompson embraces this Reanimate angle with Grief and even Troll of Khazad-dum as a ‘land’ that pitches to Grief and puts itself in the graveyard as a scary Reanimate target.
Using Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors along with Chrome Mox to power out three-drops and four-drops is a time-honoured tradition going back to the days of Sea Drake, Rakdos Pit Dragon, and Glowrider. The threats in those colours have improved substantially since then, but black never had enough of them to join the party – until now. Black’s patience is rewarded with the oldest and greatest acceleration spell in Dark Ritual, which helps with the colour-intensive costs of its threats. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse on Turn 4 is scary enough in smaller formats – how about Sheoldred on Turn 1?!
This deck also enjoys a bizarre two-card combo. Leyline of the Void and Dauthi Voidwalker are nightmares for any deck relying on the graveyard – not least the popular combo deck trying to cheat out Griselbrand and Archon of Cruelty – and many decks have small graveyard subthemes like this ‘fair’ Reanimate package. That earns Voidwalker a spot in many maindecks, but Leyline is much more all-or-nothing. Here, a Leyline is still a valuable combo piece against someone who doesn’t care about their graveyard at all.
When you’re touching the void, Helm of Obedience doesn’t know when to stop – once activated, it will fail to find a creature being put in the graveyard (rather than directly in exile) and devour the opponent’s whole library. With eight copies of Leyline plus Voidwalker and Karn, the Great Creator fetching the final Helm of Obedience from the sideboard, this combo comes up a lot and looms over any longer game.
After watching and writing about this SCG CON, I’m keen to attend one again soon, even if it means a long trip from the frozen north. Here’s hoping I’ll be bringing you a report from those trenches soon!