Instant Analysis – SCG Denver & Minneapolis $5K Legacy

The past two weekends have brought some of the biggest crowds for Legacy in the USA this summer, with 170 players in the SCG Minneapolis $5K Legacy this past weekend, and 125 players in the SCG Denver $5K Legacy tournament the weekend prior. As the post-Mystical Tutor world of Legacy develops we have seen Reanimator and Ad Nauseam combo neutered, but not completely dead, and plenty of other decks have sprung up to take their places in recent tournaments.

So where to begin? Well, let’s take a look at one of the most popular newcomers on the block, Vengevine Survival. Caleb Durward’s monster of a deck from the Top 8 at GP Columbus 2010 has had message boards and tournaments abuzz since it’s unveiling, and it has continued to put up results the last month. With one copy in the Top 8 of SCG Denver and two in the Top 8 of SCG Minneapolis (and a whopping 5 total in the Top 16 of Minneapolis), this looks like the most popular Survival variant of the past month. I know a number of people who bounce from deck to deck looking for something new to play and test with have picked this up, and this seems to have become the deck du jour.

Most of the versions of the deck have been the same shell that Durward used at Columbus, with minor modifications to the manabase, the counterspells, and the Umezawa’s Jitte count. A couple of people used other creatures (Waterfront Bouncer in Ryan MacGilvrary’s list, Tarmogoyf in Andy Williams’ decklist, etc.), but the most interesting things were Andy’s use of Intuition (finding either Vengevines or Survival of the Fittest usually) and Sam Krohlow’s sideboard with the Natural Order + Progenitus combo as another avenue of attack. I think that has a lot of merit in Survival decks and sideboards right now, as it gives the pilot yet another trump card to play as games go on and your threats are countered or dealt with. It also provides a counterattack to those who would seek to totally focus on neutralizing your graveyard abuse plan. I think we’ll see more of this deck over the next six months, and I’m looking forward to seeing what tech people can dig up to use in here. Survival of the Fittest is one of the most busted cards available in Legacy, and provides a lot of latitude for use with the ‘silver bullet’ strategy.

One deck that does not seem to go away is Goblins. While the printings of Tarmogoyf and Ad Nauseam have taken some steam out of Goblin’s engine, they are still out in strong force and placing well. As much as people want to write Goblins off or ignore it, the deck is very resilient and powerful, and consistently places players in the Top 8 and Top 16 of nearly every large tournament where it is well represented. Jonathan Watry (4th place SCG Minneapolis with Goblins R/B) and Chris Nighbor (10th place SCG Minneapolis with Goblins R/G) were merely the latest examples this past weekend. Hans Feng (4th place SCG Denver with Goblins R), Stephen Oxford (7th place SCG Denver with Goblins R/B), and Charles Mukhar (14th place SCG Denver with Goblins R/B/G) finished in the money the weekend before.

Most Goblins lists I see have the same generic bases by necessity of playing the best and most efficient cards (Vial, Lackey, Piledriver, Warchief, Matron, Ringleader, etc.), so what is most interesting about looking at these lists is the technology that creeps out. Charles Mukhar’s list is a great example of this, as he has a singleton Tarfire, Bloodmark Mentor, Mad Auntie, and double Earwig Squad he can search up with Goblin Matron. Most of them I can do without, but the Earwig Squad appearance is a particularly interesting one, because it can help proactively deal with the cards that Goblins often struggles to overcome (Tendrils of Agony, Progenitus, Moat, Engineered Plague, Humility, Sword of the Meek). This has been seen in Vintage Goblins frequently, but I think currently it is very well positioned in Legacy as well. This provides the explosive Lackey or Warchief draws still, but also gives you the option to take away opposing trump cards while nibbling on the edges with your creatures, before overwhelming the opponent in the mid-game. If I was going to play Goblins right now I would probably be packing 3 Earwig Squad’s main.

Most people with Goblins are hoping to exploit other people’s manabases, and couple that exploitation with their own powerful early plays (Aether Vial, Goblin Lackey). They are also most often playing fetchland bases splashing one or more colors, and are still playing 2-4 Rishadan Ports. After playing this deck for a while in the past I think you really need to hit colored land drops to not go belly up in a field of opposing Wastelands, and because of this I think anything beyond 2 Ports is too many (or 3 Ports, if you want to drop a business spell for and be in that 23-24 land range). Most people are still too greedy with their manabases though, and will throw away games because of it (this message was brought to you by everyone on Channel Fireball; /end joke). I think Hans’ decklist above is an exception to this though, and can get away with 3-4 Ports because the rest of his mono-Red manabase contains 14 Mountains and is therefore much harder to disrupt and color screw.

Like Goblins, Merfolk is another aggro-control deck seeking to abuse people’s manabases and control the early tempo game and gain maximum value out of Aether Vial. Merfolk is still one of the relatively cheaper decks to build in Legacy (with most of the cost coming from Force of Will, Wasteland, and Aether Vial, which all have applicability elsewhere), and it continues to do well despite a number of people bashing the deck for various reasons. Constantine Vigderman’s SCG Denver winning decklist is essentially Tomoharu Saito’s GP Columbus 2010 winning decklist, but dropping the Black for a more stable manabase. The key element of Saito’s main deck are the 3 copies of Spell Pierce, which further leverages tempo and the early turn response by the Merfolk player to handle any potential answers opponents may have for the Merfolk player (Swords to Plowshares, Moat, Firespout, counterspells, combo pieces, etc.). Where Saito (and a number of Magic Online Legacy players prior) had used Black for access to Engineered Plague to battle Goblins, Vigderman chose instead to solidify his manabase and just stick with Hydroblast and Blue Elemental Blast to battle Goblins and Naya Zoo, and that seemed to work well enough for him. Matt Dimalanta also made Top 16 at Denver with mono-Blue Merfolk, even though his budgetized version with no Wastelands and Mutavaults, and only 2 Force of Wills. The interesting technology from his decklist was the sideboarded Spreading Seas, which make a ton of sense when you think about it. One of Merfolk’s biggest strengths is that the whole team can Islandwalk with a Lord of Atlantis in play against Blue decks. When you cast Spreading Seas you can Islandwalk against any deck, and it cantrips so you’re not even losing any card advantage by making this line of play. Brilliant!

Merfolk also penetrated the Top 16 of Minneapolis, with Michael Poszgay rocking Saito’s UB list, and Brad Stryczek rocking Consantine Vigderman’s mono-Blue list from the weekend before. A lot of people like to hate on Merfolk, but frankly there’s not a lot that can be done to hate it out of the metagame. It has tools to battle nearly every archetype, is hard to disrupt, and is very efficient, so I predict this will be a significant force in the metagame for a very long time to come. If history has taught us anything about constructed Magic, it is that aggro-control decks perform very well in any field where the countermagic is strong enough to support them (such as Force of Will). That’s probably one big reason why the manufacturer keeps printing more diluted and weaker counterspells.

Moving on from the traditionally well represented aggro and aggro control decks we’ve continue to see do well as of late, another archetype that’s constantly undergoing self evaluation and littering Top 8’s is the CounterTop strategy. We’ve seen the Bant-backed Natural Order + Progenitus versions, the versions with Tarmogoyf and a handful of other creatures, the Enlightened Tutor-laced version with the Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry finish, and now we’re seeing Jace, the Mind Sculptor infect these and starting to become the preeminent finisher. One of the interesting subplots in Legacy (and other formats) right now is the ongoing use of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and trying to figure out which shell to best abuse it in. Aside from the UBG Landstill deck which I’ve written about recently, I think Adam Prosak’s 3rd place deck from SCG Denver is a very good jumping point for abusing Jace 2.0, and a very good choice for doing so in a CounterTop shell. While Adam’s performance with the deck is testament to its strength, I’m not wild about a few things in the deck, like Predict, Trinket Mage, Black in general, lack of Engineered Explosives main, etc. I think Red is probably the stronger splash color in that particular list, because it gives you access to Firespout against aggro decks, and Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast against Jace or other Blue decks. I also think the deck isn’t really going to get there by swinging with Trinket Mage, and that those slots would probably be better occupied as Moat (or Humility if ditching creatures altogether) and Enlightened Tutor (which would also help to manipulate Counterbalance activations in a pinch). The things I do like very much are Vedalken Shackles, Jace, and a solid manabase. With that being said this is what would be my starting point if piloting a deck like Prosak’s:


[Business] (37)
Force of Will
Spell Snare
Swords to Plowshares
Senseis Divining Top
Enlightened Tutor
Engineered Explosives
Pithing Needle
Vedalken Shackles
Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/Business]

[Mana] (23)
Academy Ruins
Flooded Strand
Scalding Tarn
Volcanic Island
[Sideboard] (15)
Red Elemental Blast
Tormods Crypt
Relic of Progenitus
Ethersworn Canonist
Meddling Mage

[/Sideboard] (0)

You’ve got great mana, very efficient solutions to Merfolk (traditionally a problem for CounterTop decks), as well as appropriate graveyard and combo hate out of the sideboard. This seems pretty solid, and I’ll be testing it a lot over the next couple of weeks hopefully.

The other deck from the past couple of weeks that I thought was refreshing to see is Ken Adams’ winning deck from Minneapolis, an almost perverse rejection of what it means to be a Blue deck in Legacy right now. Make no mistake, this is no Jace deck and certainly no control deck. This is a combo deck through and through, seeking to kill the opponent once either of the combos (Painter’s Servant + Grindstone, or Auriok Salvagers + Lion’s Eye Diamond + Aether Spellbomb) come online. There is no CounterTop to lock the opponent out, no Swords to Plowshares to muddle up the ground combat, and no heavy permission package. There are just a bunch of tools to kill the opponent, spells to find the tools to kill the opponent, and Force of Will to power something through. So let’s dig in to this potential masterpiece.

First of all, this deck’s main kill mechanism is to mill the opponent’s deck away using the Painter’s Servant + Grindstone combo. Like the many Painter decks before it and particularly Imperial Painter, this uses arguably the most efficient kill available in Legacy (costs colorless 4 mana to play both pieces, 3 mana to activate for the win, so 7 colorless mana total over however few turns necessary). The deck’s 4 Trinket Mages can tutor up Grindstone, and the 4 Imperial Recruiters can tutor up Painter’s Servant and every creature in the deck, which is key for chaining the tutoring when necessary. There are also a host of other things to help dig for these pieces (Sensei’s Divining Top, Enlightened Tutor, Thirst for Knowledge), but what happens when the opponent has something like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in their deck that would cause the milling kill to be nullified?

This is where the other very relevant kill mechanism of the deck comes in. Auriok Salvagers can be used for general utility to bring back any of your spent or destroyed artifacts, but it can be abused with Lion’s Eye Diamond to generate infinite mana (sac for 3 mana, bring back with Salvagers for 2 mana, replay, rinse and repeat). Things get interesting when you throw Pyrite Spellbomb or Aether Spellbomb into the mix to draw as many cards as you want to toy with your opponent (after you’ve generated mana with LED), or you can simply do an arbitrarily large number of damage to the opponent using Pyrite Spellbomb. This combo doesn’t care if your opponent has Emrakul in their deck to prevent them from milling, or a single Pithing Needle to shut down Grindstone, because they’re just going to take plenty of damage to the dome from Pyrite Spellbomb whenever you’re good and ready.

The cost of Imperial Recruiter cost will probably will prevent most people from picking up this deck (although it’s only about $2-3 in Magic Online), but it is truly awesome here. It fetches up your combo creatures as well as things like the Goblin Welder (to recycle destroyed artifacts from your graveyard) and your sideboard bullets like Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Faerie Macabre, and Llawan, Cephalid Empress.

While I can’t say enough good things about this deck, there are a couple of small nitpicks I have. First of all there are only 21 lands and no Academy Ruins, so I would definitely like to see that dropped in for an additional way to bring back your kill cards as well as to provide inevitability. The other thing I think could be slightly tweaked is the inclusion of 3 Lion’s Eye Diamonds. Realistically this is most often a dead card until you’re ready to win anyway, so I’d probably cut one of these for the Academy Ruins, and leave the rest of the main deck intact. I think the numbers of everything else appear right at first blush, and hey, the man just rolled through a large tournament and crushed it, so we can’t argue too much with his stellar results, right?

From the recent SCG, GenCon Legacy Champs, and GP Columbus results I see a metagame that is very healthy, constantly shifting, and constantly innovating. In short, I think that Legacy is starting to finally become a professional-like constructed format, where we see the ebb and flow of metagame movement and technology advances from week to week in medium and larger tournaments. I’m excited to be playing Legacy in 2010!