This weekend brings Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, which celebrates Magic's 25th year by including three constructed formats, Standard, Modern, and even Legacy - its first time as a Pro Tour format since the World Championships in 2006. I'm not blessed with the opportunity to play the event, although I'll have the consolation of being at GenCon trying to grind my way into the Beta Rochester Draft, a fitting celebration of Magic's anniversary I plan to be a part of.
But today I wanted to discuss one of the Pro Tour's formats I have been playing a lot of, Legacy. I've also been playing some fun formats online, Pauper and 1v1 Commander, so I'll also share my experiences and the knowledge I've gained there.
A good crossover between what I have been playing a lot of lately and the Pro Tour is Legacy, a format I have been a fan of for years and even played it at that World Championship event in 2006. I hadn't played a ton of the format recently, but that changed this year when I set my sights on GP Seattle. I had some success with the Sensei's Divining Top-less Miracles deck, but eventually migrated to Grixis Delver, which was the most successful deck in the format and one that used the best card in the format, Deathrite Shaman, which felt criminal not to be playing with. I piloted Grixis Delver all the way to the finals of the Legacy PTQ at the GP and fell in love with the deck, but the recent bannings of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe left me without a deck and back to my default of Miracles. My hopes of playing Legacy at the Pro Tour were ended with a loss in the final round of the Regional PTQ, but I had plans to play the format at an SCG team event, so I wanted to be up-to-date. Early testing led me to believe the Miracles deck was great and my definite new post-ban Legacy deck, especially after demolishing Temur Delver after Temur Delver deck in my first event, but the moment my key sideboard tech against Sneak and Show, Containment Priest, which I had actually bumped up to a three-of from the usual two, was beaten by Arcane Artisan, their new sideboard tech, I knew Miracles wasn't the deck for me.
It was the night before I left to play my event, but I knew I had to audible to a Delver deck. At some point prior I had actually tried post-ban Grixis Delver in a league, Noah Walker's new list from an SCG, and it felt fine, but without Deathrite Shaman black was no longer appealing to me, so I knew I had to go all-in and play Temur Delver. Temur Delver is one of Legacy's oldest and most storied decks, and in fact traces its origins back to the very first days of the format when a Threshold deck with Nimble Mongoose was at the top of the meta, but it's a deck I had never actually played seriously before. My testing with Miracles led me to believe it was no good, but the facts were that Temur Delver put up great showings in SCG events, and had won the last MTGO Legacy Challenge, so it was probably the best Delver deck and maybe the best deck period. I jumped in a league with the deck, and being proactive felt great, and I realized it was the obvious deck for me after Grixis was crippled.
I ended up going 6-1 in the SCG event, and the deck felt fantastic. Last weekend I was able to bring the deck out again, in a MTGO Legacy Challenge, and I cruised to the top 8 of the 100+ player event with a 6-1 record, the loss being a mirror match. The deck has a proactive and highly disruptive plan that gives it game against any and all strategies you can come up against, and access to a variety of sideboard tools help it adjust to any matchup or metagame, so I can't recommend it enough.
Still, the metagame is in its infancy after the bannings and there is plenty of room to explore, which the pros will do thoroughly in preparation of the Pro Tour, which could impact and advance the metagame in a massive way. A perfect example is the Grixis Control deck that won the Challenge last weekend, and saw a similar deck also reach the Top 8.
This deck is very much an evolution of Four-Color Leovold Control, which was a top deck before the banning and a counter to Grixis Delver. With Deathrite Shaman gone, the deck loses most of its incentive to be green, and can give up the color in favor of the a streamlined three-color deck. The deck looks to retain much of its Delver-fighting properties, and has the tools to disrupt combo decks, so this early result leads me to believe it will be a major player in the metagame going forward and a good bet to be successful at the Pro Tour.
My love of Delver of Secrets in Legacy hasn't led to my success with the card in Pauper, where Delver of Secrets is a staple for the format-defining decks named after it. My Pauper experience is limited to some online leagues and mostly Challenge events, where I've played Delver decks to poor results so many times that I have sworn myself not to play it. Going for something a bit more proactive that doesn't have to deal with everything the opponent plays led me to the Blue-White Tireless Tribe-Inside Out combo deck, which I couldn't ignore after it went on a tear a few months ago. I picked it up myself and brought it to the Top 4 of a Challenge during my first run with the deck, with plenty of mistakes along the way – including completely going all-in and discarding my hand on a combo kill before I declared attackers only to be destroyed by an Alchemist's Vial, but reassembling the combo and winning anyways. It was obvious the deck was broken, and on my short list of Pauper decks I'd play competitively, but in my next run with the deck I wasn't able to repeat my success and it left a sour taste in my mouth, so I wanted to explore other options.
I really enjoy the idea of Urzatron decks in Pauper, but a run with the Stonehorn Dignitary-Ghostly Flicker version wasn't very fun for me, and especially not conducive to double-queuing, since the Pauper Challenge runs alongside the Legacy Challenge, so I wanted to play with something more proactive and capable of winning quickly. A look at recent results showed a deck having consistent success that met my criteria – Elves, one of the most powerful decks in Pauper. It's a tribe I've always enjoyed historically but don't get to play with much, so I was excited to play it in Pauper.
After some initial testing I knew I wanted to make some changes to the stock list, specifically maxing out on Nettle Sentinel, which stock lists play just three or even two of. Elves, even in Pauper, is something of a combo deck, and Nettle Sentinel combining with Birchlore Rangers to generate mana is the best combo the deck has and allows for the most explosive starts, which is where I think Elves wants to be and unlocks its most powerful cards like Distant Melody. Nettle Sentinel also has the advantage of being the deck's best aggressive creature, and it supports the beatdown plan in games where the deck doesn't go off like a combo deck. Along with its synergy with Viridian Longbow, I think Nettle Sentinel really does it all and the deck shouldn't play less than four. To fit it, I cut Essence Warden, which adds a nice life gain element to the deck, which at times is better than Wellwisher because it can be played in the middle of going off. That said, it doesn't help the deck explode, and its life isn't always meaningful, so it was an easy cut for me, but a card I'd consider sideboarding.
Most lists play a main deck Spidersilk Armor, which fights removal and can shut down the flying assault of the Delver decks, but I see it as a sideboard card that can be a liability in the main deck in too many situations. I believe that synergy-based creature decks like tribal decks – and definitely a deck that borders on combo like Elves – should focus entirely on creatures and needs a very good reason to play anything else, which is why decks like Modern Humans don't play anything but mana and creatures. Rather than play an enchantment with no real synergy, I added a fourth Elvish Vanguard, which as a large creature is an anti-sweeper card in its own right so it's a partial replacement for the anti-sweeper card Spidersilk Armor, but without the downside of not being a creature. Spidersilk Armor is a great card, but I believe sideboard are exactly the place for situational cards, which guarantees I'll only draw it in matchups where it's excellent, and never in those where it's dead. There's also the fact that Elves runs into the vast majority of sweeper in post-sideboard game, so there's even less value in having it main deck.
My run in the Pauper Challenge with the deck brought me to a 5-0 start to lock the Top 8 of the seven-round event, and an eventual Top 4 exit to a Blue-Red Kiln Fiend combo deck that seems to be one of the premier decks in the format. My changes seemed excellent as I consistently exploded like a combo deck and used Nettle Sentinel as a key part of my engine.
When lists were posted I noticed that the next-highest finishing Elves deck was in 12th place by a player with the name of TheMaverickGirl, which reminded me that one of the key Elf decks I looked at in my research when tuning my list was piloted by a female player, Kendra Smith, who as it turns out is TheMaverickGirl. She won the SCG Pauper Classic at SCGCon, which to my knowledge was the biggest full swiss with Top 8 Pauper tournament held this year – if not ever in history – so in my eyes is the best depicter of the Pauper metagame we have seen so far, and something I took as a big sign that the Elves deck was very good. I assume Kendra is an Elves expert with a lot of experience playing the deck, so it was reaffirming to see that she had made the same change that I had in cutting Essence Warden. In her list it opened space for a second Viridian Longbow, a card that overperformed for me and I could see having two of. She did include an Essence Warden in the sideboard, and I can see the value of the card there, specifically as a one-of to draw when comboing off as a way to set-up passing the turn with a bunch of extra life and locking up the game against burn and aggro decks.
An important takeaway for me from her list is the sideboard tech of Harsh Sustenance, which as far as I can tell is a strict and rather significant upgrade over the one-of Massive Raid in my sideboard, which is used to immediately kill an opponent after going off. Harsh Sustenance does the same thing but also gains life, so it's better when it's not just winning the game and is even a very useful sideboard card against burn as another life gain source.
I genuinely had a great time playing with the Elves deck, so I look forward to playing it again any chance I get – and I recommend it to anyone looking for a very competitive and enjoyable Pauper deck.
A couple weeks ago it was announced that were would be massive changed to the online 1v1 Commander format, which for months has been plagued by overpowered Commanders, first Edgar Markov, which was banned, and then the dual commanders of Tymna, the Weaver and Thrasios, Triton Hero. The biggest part of the rulings change is the end of dual commanders, which were overpowered because they meant a player effectively started with nine cards in hand and were too consistent in what they did. Beyond this, the overall power level of the format is being significantly increased, with a swath of cards being unbanned, specifically artifact mana and tutors. These cards are part of the normal Commander experience and will lead to a different 1v1 metagame, which Wizards said was too based on grinding and incremental advantage rather than a more diverse set of powerful things to do, which the unbanned cards should allow for.
The first Challenge event since the changes show that the top deck is now clearly Teferi, Temporal Archmage, which was a top-tier deck before key cards like Ancient Tomb, Chrome Mox and Mox Diamond were banned, and was significantly improved by the unbanning of these cards along with other fast mana and blue card drawing.
What formats are you playing?