In the Lab – Legacy Transformers

In the history of Magic: The Gathering, milling your opponent has been always a fun (but not always great) way to win the games. WotC keeps printing cards that throw cards from top of the deck to the graveyard, but generally all those cards suck. Even though we know how bad of a strategy milling is we keep trying it.

The following In the Lab article talks about my latest (monster) creation: Transformers. You can keep reading about it after the break.

In the Lab Study Case #2:

Name: Transformers

Deck Concept: Milling your opponent.

How: Painter’s Servant + Grindstone.

How fast: Turn 3 or 4 (exceptionally turn 1 and 2).

Deck Special Mechanics: Metalcraft and Affinity

Best card in the deck: Transmute Artifact

Fun-o-meter: 9 out 10

Good against: Aggro decks, Survival decks, Tribal decks, etc…

Bad against: Emrakul decks and Counterbalance decks


I started playing Painter’s Servant right after the printing of the card back in Shadowmoor. Managed to achieve a very good results with what (back then) I called TP Grinding Servants:

I have to admit that the success of the deck is basically based on the surprise factor. The truth is that when you play in a competitive metagame with tournaments with certain amount of players, you’ll hardly prepare yourself versus Painters. Instead, people play cards that are more versatile and work nice versus more decks. One of example of that would be: Krosan Grip. This card is good but not definitely the best vs pairings like White Staxx or Enchantres, but people will obviously still side them in.

Back then it was the same. The only real hate I would face were Krosan Grip, Pithing Needles and cards like that. Cards that are flexible but not as broken as a Gaea’s Blessing would be.

The deck itself:

First of all, let me present you the list I’m currently playing:


[Mana Sources]4 Grim Monolith (20)
Mox Opal
Seat of the Synod
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors
Ancient Den
Academy Ruins[/Mana Sources]

[Business]4 Transmute Artifact (20)
Enlightened Tutor
Pithing Needle
Engineered Explosives
Senseis Divining Top
Ensnaring Bridge[/Business]

[Creatures]4 Etched Champion (8)
Trinket Mage
Painters Servant[/Creatures]

Study the maindeck carefully before moving on.

As you can see, the deck is focused on the Painter’s Servant + Grindstone combo, making it a third of the deck that are either combo pieces or tutors:

The reasons to not play the 4th Grindstone are many. First of all, Grindstone will hardly get destroyed by Krosan Grip or other artifact hate. If the opponent has to choose a target for Krosan Grip, he’ll 99.9% of the times target the Painter’s Servant. Another reason why the 4th Grindstone might be redundant is that I have access to it through more ways than the other combo piece. Trinket Mage is a super important card in this deck as it can fetch for so many great artifacts. On top of that, Trinket Mage can fetch me a Seat of the Synod, Ancient Den, or the recently printed Mox Opal to help me speed up the early game. In many ocasions, with both combo pieces in hand I find myself with one normal land plus an Ancient Tomb and a Trinket Mage, that I will use it most likely to fetch a land. This is the list of all Trinket Mage targets in the deck:

Trinket Mage tutors up to 16 cards! And, never forget, that it beats for 2! Besides the Mage, to help up gather the combo pieces I’m running 4 Brainstorms and 4 Thoughtcasts. The inclusion of Thoughtcast is so obvious in here. I hardly cast it for more than U in turn 2 or 3, and on the mid/late game it might find me the missing part of the combo, or one of the many tutors. Brainstorm and Thoughtcasts are the glue of the deck as they keep you alive after having lost all your early bombs to a counter wall.

Regarding the mana base I wanted something solid and that wouldn’t die to Wastelands that bad. Yeah, I know that I’m only playing 1 basic Island and absolutely no fetchlands. How on earth could I think the mana base isn’t dying to Wasteland? Ok… first of all, the basic Island is there basically for Path to Exile. Second, you should have a look at the sexy 4 Mox Opal and 4 Grim Monolith. That’s like 8 lands inmune to Wasteland. Ok, they are not lands but they work as such for me. Besides, why on earth would you play more than 16 lands in a Legacy Combo deck? What you definitely don’t wanna see on your opening hand are 3 lands. And what you definitely DO wanna see are 3 Grim Monolith (see the last sample hand at the bottom of the article).

And now, let me just talk a bit about the best card in the deck: Transmute Artifact. This card is the reason why the deck is named “Transformers”. Ok, transmute doesn’t mean the same as transform but, it’s quite similar! With Transmute Artifact we can transform any of our artifacts into something better (else why would you play it). Few months ago, the DCI decided to give Transmute Artifact a better text and, with the change, the card has improved a lot. I truly believe Transmute Artifact is one of those cards that are unknown to the vast majority of the Legacy players. When I play it most of the people will read it and then ask me to sacrifice the artifact as part of the cost. Then go call the judge, and most likely he’ll have to ask the Oracle because he doesn’t know how it works.

Transmute Artifact is such a great tool enabler and offers so many great plays that it’s hard list them all. From converting an already used Grim Monolith into a brand new untapped one, to transmuting a land into a Meekstone or Ensnaring Bridge to disable the incoming attacks, or the most obvious ones like transmuting artifacts into combo pieces.  By the way, now that I mention Ensnaring Bridge, I believe this card is pure nuts in the current metagame. Not only it solves the Progenitus / Emrakul, the Aeons Torn problem but also slows down many of those annoyingly trendy Vengevine Survival decks. You gotta see the opponent’s face (who’s playing merfolks) when you resolve a Bridge and he has 1 or 2 lords into play. GG! Ensnaring Bridge is probably the best 1-of in the maindeck.

The last card I’d like to talk about is Etched Champion. You might think… “WTF is this dude doing here?” I agree with you but, this 3 mana 2/2 with protection from colors (it has Metalcraft 100% of the times you cast it) is such a Great Wall of China and Planeswalker killer that it gained the spots maindeck. Every deck should have a plan A and a plan B. My plan A is obvious, to mill you. My plan B is less obvious, to beat you. My horde of 1/3’s and 2/2’s have won more than one game at the beat down. Specially those games where I gathered 2 or more Etched Champions. It’s the champion against Survival decks, Goblins, merfolks (unless I dropped a Tundra), Zoo, etc… Chumblock with Trinket Mages and attack with Etched Champions, that’s my plan B!

Finally, let me do a brief mention of the sideboard options before I start analyzing some sample hands. This is an example of the many sideboards I’ve been trying around lately:

I’m gonna mention the sideboard choices and other possible cards that could be included depending on where you play.

Defense Grid – The deck doesn’t play any kind of protection (yeah, 0 counters, 0 duress, 0 chants, 0…), so, having a tutorable answer versus all those decks running Spell Pierces, Dazes, Force of Wills, Counterspells, etc… seems to me like a good choice.

Pithing Needle – This card is so hot right now! Do I need to list the amount of cards this 1cc artifact stops? Excellent Trinket Mage Target on the early game, as it’ll shut down anything that could slow us down.

Tormod’s Crypt – Needed versus Emrakul, the Aeons Torn if we want to be able to win the game. You need to use a Tormod’s in response to the triggered ability of a Emrakul or Gaea’s Blessing. It’s also tutorable by Trinket Mage and it’s also good against decks like Vengevine Survival, Dredge, etc…

Ensnaring Bridge – This is a card the Legacy players aren’t that afraid of, and mostly because it’s a card that doesn’t see a lot of play. But needless to say a word about its potential and how good it is in a deck with 8 tutors that can find it.

Seal of Cleansing – The worst card I’ve played against was Null Rod as it shuts down our maindeck removal: Engineered Explosives. With this tutorable enchantment by Enlightened Tutor I’m less afraid of facing a possible Null Rod. It’s also good against many other decks like CounterTop, Survival, etc… and it cleans the table of enemy Pithing Needles.

Trinisphere – This card has proven to be good in the sideboard versus TES, Zoo, etc… The deck can afford playing with a Trinisphere thanks to the solid mana base.

Swords to Plowshares – Also good in a very aggro meta. If you expect lots of Zoo, Goblins, Merfolks, etc… the combination of Etched Champion + Swords to Plowshares can be brutal for the opponent.

So far, I’ve played around 100 games with the deck on Cockatrice and the results obtained couldn’t be better. The deck has won lot more games that it has lost. I’ve played mostly against tier 1 decks and it’s proven to be more competitive than I originally expected. The following are examples of hands drawn during the testing and a little explanation on How I played the turns 1 and 2 of each of them:

Hand 1:

This hand was a on the play vs an unknown player. It’s specially good because it has lands, 1 tutor, Ensnaring Bridge (it won the game) and an Etched Champion. He opened with a turn 1 Kird Ape, so I went for turn 2 Champion. Turn 3 Transmute Artifact for another Champion.

Hand 2:

This hand is a risky one. I only had 1 land but we have plenty of business spells. I decided not to ship it and give it a try. I was again on the play, and I started with Tundra and pass. I didn’t want to risk not getting land #2 by playing the Top here. There was no turn 1 Wasteland by the Merfolk Oponent so I went Enlightened Tutor EOT for Seat of the Synod, turn 2 Grim Monolith and then turn 3 I topdecked Transmute Artifact, so you can guess the ending.

Hand 3:

Check out this hand. It’s so sexy that it hurts! I opened with Synod + Top + Mox Opal, eot Tutor for Grindstone. Turn 2, Tundra + Grindstone + Painter, turn 3 win. My opponent played Affinity. Notice I didn’t even used the Top once and I still had a Thoughtcast.

Hand 4:

Another suspicious hand here, but the presence of the basic Island made me decide to keep it. Turn 1 Island + Top. Top gets a Daze. I topdeck a Seat of the Synod there, and go for turn 2 Grim Monolith. I decide not to play the Champion even though I was facing Merfolks, because I had the Transmute Artifact + Grindstone in hand. Turn 3 I topdeck again like a Champion (playing Champions doesthat) a Mox Opal, so I go turn 3 Opal + Grindstone, Tap Monolith for 3, Island + Seat for Transmute, put Painters into play transmuting the Monolith and tap Grindstone for the win.

Hand 5:

I don’t think this hand deserves much explanation. It’s pure sex.

Hand 6:

Very similar hand to hand #2. I operated the exact same way. I was on the play vs an unknown player. So I opened with Tundra and pass. Tundra got a Wasteland, so I tutored for Seat of the Synod. Turn 2, Synod and pass again as I can’t risk not finding the second mana source. He wastes my Synod again… so I Brainstorm and find Ancient Tomb, Mox Opal and Etched Champion. Ship the Champion, draw the Tomb, and play Tomb + Grim Monolith + Opal and pass. I win the game long after.

Hand 7:

Lots of mana, which is great. I develop my mana base fast with turn 1 Ancient Tomb + Grim Monolith, then Synod, Synod, etc… Brainstorm doesn’t find me the white source but I found a Trinket Mage. Trinket gets countered and my opponent + Ancient Tomb made my lives go heavily down, so I transmuted the Monolith into a Bridge and he concedes.

Hand 8:

With this kind of hands sometimes I feel like Luis Scott Vargas, the man who never runs out of gas! MINUTE 0:28 = PRICELESS

I also fart while I play online, but at least I don’t record that on video 😛 Anyways, I won turn 3 with that hand.

Hand 9:

This hand comes from a Mulligan and even though it’s not that great it has a lot of potential. I was playing vs Vengevines and went EOT of turn 1 Enlightened for Pithing Needle. Turn 2 Needle + Tomb. Turn 3 I draw Ancient Den, so I hard cast Thoughtcast with 4 mana (very rare, but coming from a Mulligan it’s ok, I guess). Thoughtcast brings Mox Opal and Brainstorm. After some action from the Survival player with Mongrels and Rootwallas I end up winning thanks to the Transmute Artifacts.

Hand 10:

Yes, you are right. It’s a first turn kill: Tomb + Monolith + Monolith + Monolith + Opal + Grindstone + Painter’s with 3 floating. Cockatrice crashed.

Hope you guys enjoyed the article and deck primer!