This weekend is Grand Prix New Jersey. I don't talk about Legacy much, but when I do it's because I've been testing the format and have something worthwhile to say. Consider this your annual update on Legacy Death and Taxes: Treasure Cruise installment.
For those interested, here is my Top 8 report (and sideboard guide) from last year's North American Legacy Grand Prix (in Washington D.C. where I played Death and Taxes).
This is my current list:DECKID=1221569
Let's talk about this list in detail and then I'll discuss the cards other people are playing that did not make it into my list.Creatures
4 Mother of Runes4 Stoneforge Mystic
These are the two all-stars in the deck and they work very well together. If Mother of Runes survives, then you can slam Stoneforge Mystic on the next turn and fetch Batterskull. If Mother of Runes dies and you suspect Stoneforge Mystic will also die right away, then hedging by getting one of the other two equipment is often better.
These are also our two primary card advantage cards in the deck. If Mother of Runes is not dealt with immediately, then it essentially makes them have to draw (and use) their next two removal spells just to kill the Mother of Runes.
Stoneforge Mystic is more vulnerable to removal, but guarantees a two-for-one just by resolving. And any of the three equipment spells it finds are capable of gaining more card advantage through their abilities. I rarely side out either of these cards, though sometimes Mother of Runes is expendable.
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben3 Phyrexian Revoker2 Spirit of the Labyrinth
These are our primary disruption creatures. Most lists run four Thalia, Guardian of Thraben because she is our best card against Storm and various other combo decks. Her effect is pretty similar to Spirit of the Labyrinth's in a lot of those matchups though, and drawing multiple Thalias in matchups where she isn't great can be quite annoying. So I shaved one for a Spirit.
Phyrexian Revoker is another card that can often shut down a combo deck by naming their important combo card. It's often better to draw one Revoker and one Spirit though, so I shaved a Revoker for the second Spirit. Revoker can also be quite good with Aether Vial since you can Vial it into play in response to the card they are casting and then name it so they get no use out of it. I'm looking at you, Jace, the Mind Sculptor!
Spirit of the Labyrinth has been seeing some play in Death and Taxes lists since being printed but I expect it to start seeing a lot more play now that Treasure Cruise is all over the place in Legacy.
4 Serra Avenger2 Flickerwisp2 Jotun Grunt
This is where my list really starts to diverge from some of the more common lists. I like Serra Avenger a lot right now. It doesn't seem good against UR Delver because of all their Lightning Bolts, but it really is. It's evasive and has vigilance, so it can eat a Young Pyromancer or Elemental Token while attacking overtop of it. It can also trade with a flipped Delver of Secrets. Lightning Bolts are already pretty taxed in the matchup and they pretty much have to use it on the Mother of Runes or Stoneforge Mystic, so they'll often run out of bolts by the time the angel hits play.
Flickerwisp was so good before that I ran four at GP DC last year. There was no particular reason why it was so good other than being a flyer with a semi-versatile ability. It is worse now with the amount of Forked Bolts and other anti- Young Pyromancer, anti-elf cards that are prevalent though, so I went down to just two copies. We need the evasion however, so I went up to four Serra Avenger. Despite being more fragile, we gain one more big incentive to play Flickerwisp / Containment Priest. With the priest on the battlefield it can permanently exile a creature. This is useful in some matchups.
Jotun Grunt is a Blast from the Past. He hasn't seen much play in the past couple years but he is another great card in a field of Lightning Bolts, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time. He's not a great answer to Batterskull but sometimes trading with an early Germ Token will keep us in the game long enough to win when otherwise the opponent gains too much life and/or deals us too much damage off a second turn Stoneforge Mystic. Wash your hands, kids; otherwise the germs will make you sick!
1 Mangara of Corondor1 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
These are my legendary three-drops of choice. They work well with Karakas, as does Thalia, since you can often play them with Karakas untapped to protect it from removal. Mangara works even better with Karakas, especially if you also have an Aether Vial on three counters since you can activate Mangara and in response bounce him with Karakas to permanently exile a permanent. Then on end step you vial it back into play and repeat the following turn.
Brimaz is great against UR Delver since it survives Lightning Bolt and produces extra tokens each turn. It's also just a resilient threat in general, especially when we can protect it with Karakas. Sometimes the token-making ability is a liability though – like when you want to block a creature equipped with Batterskull and then bounce your legendary blocker with Karakas to prevent the opponent from gaining life. This trick works with Thalia and Mangara, but not with Brimaz because the Cat Token remains a blocker.Spells
4 Aether Vial4 Swords to Plowshares1 Batterskull1 Sword of Fire and Ice1 Umezawa's Jitte
Aether Vial is the absolute best opening the deck has in most matchups. It's our mana generating engine and we want to get it online as quickly as possible. It's basically our Sol Ring equivalent.
Swords to Plowshares continues to be the best creature removal spell ever printed. I would run more than four if allowed to do so. Path to Exile has a significant drawback in this deck because a large part of our game plan is mana denial through Wasteland and Rishadan Port. We run a Sunlance in the sideboard for matchups where it is functionally similar enough to Swords to Plowshares.
Batterskull is the no-brainer target for Stoneforge Mystic. If we think the Mystic is going to survive, then we usually go on the Batterskull plan.
Umezawa's Jitte is the primary target against Elves and some other decks with a lot of one-toughness creatures. Otherwise it's usually the Backup Plan.
Sword of Fire and Ice is still the best third option but for different reasons than it was a year ago. Last year True-Name Nemesis was recently printed and was the new toy that everyone and their sister wanted to play with. Sword of Fire and Ice was our solution to that situation. This year True-Name Nemesis has died down a bit in popularity (though is still fairly popular), but UR Delver has become the most widely played deck in the format. Delver has a difficult time fighting through a Sword of Fire and Ice, especially on a vigilance creature like Serra Avenger or Brimaz.Lands
4 Rishadan Port4 Wasteland
A big part of our game plan often involves mana denial. Wasteland is the most effective at accomplishing this, but Rishadan Port is also quite potent. Basic Lands see a lot of play right now in Legacy, despite Wasteland seeing less play than I can ever remember, so Rishadan Port often does a lot of work by tapping down basic lands on the opponent's upkeep. I'll often conserve my Wastelands for an opposing Karakas if possible. Also keep in mind that Mangara can get in on the land destruction game too.
3 Karakas2 Horizon Canopy10 Plains
Karakas combos with Mangara as a reusable Vindicate, protects Brimaz and Thalia, and bounces opposing monsters that have been reanimated or put into play via Show and Tell. It doesn't stop Emrakul with Sneak Attack though, unfortunately, since they can just replay it again before attackers are declared. The other option is bouncing it after it attacks, which will prevent the 15 damage but will cause us to Annihilate six permanents. And of course he'll be able to put it back into play again the next turn with the Sneak Attack.
Horizon Canopy is great when we draw too many lands but painful when we don't. Most lists only run one copy, but I like the second one over Cavern of Souls or the eleventh Plains.
I could also see running a Flagstones of Trokair over the tenth Plains or the second Horizon Canopy since it works well with Cataclysm and against Pox and Emrakul, though these are small payoffs in exchange for the (admittedly small) cost of either not being able to draw a card (off Canopy) or having one less white source against Blood Moon, Magus of the Moon, and Back to Basics. It's close.Sideboard</p>
3 Rest in Peace1 Sunlance2 Council's Judgment2 Ethersworn Canonist3 Containment Priest2 Cataclysm2 Absolute Law
Rest in Peace is for Dredge and any of the graveyard-based combo decks. I don't like it much against Tarmogoyf or delve cards though. It's sometimes good as a one-of in matchups where it's strictly a value card, but I prefer to let Jotun Grunt do that work for me. Spirit of the Labyrinth should pick up the rest of the slack against Treasure Cruise while Swords to Plowshares and Mangara can do some work against Tarmogoyf.
Sunlance basically comes in against any deck playing creatures that it kills. Delver of Secrets and Elves are the primary targets. Just remember it's a sorcery and can only kill non-white creatures, so that means opposing Stoneforge Mystics are off limits.
Council's Judgment comes in against the opposite type of cards - very large creatures. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Progenitus come most readily to mind. It's also a great answer to True-Name Nemesis and probably one of the biggest reasons that card sees less play than it originally did. I also board this in against Jace decks and anywhere else that invests at least three mana into a card that can be dealt with by the judgment.
Ethersworn Canonist is great against Storm and any other deck that aims to play lots of spells in a single turn, including Elves. [Yes, I'm aware Legacy Storm is known as ANT but I do what I want!]
Containment Priest is our new toy! Yay! I almost went to Wal-Mart and Target to buy three copies of the white Commander deck last Friday, but then I decided against it mostly on the grounds that I would rather leave it in the store for someone else to purchase and potentially get into Commander and develop a love for white decks. I might regret this decision if Containment Priests prove impossible to find at the GP this weekend, but sometimes in life you have to take risks and go with what seems right.
Anecdote aside, The Containment Priest performed way above expectation in testing this week. I would run it main deck if not for the nombo with Aether Vial. It works great in conjunction with Flickerwisp, permanently exiling a creature. It also is especially good against Reanimator, Sneak and Show, and Elves. We now have multiple angles of attack against these decks and so it's harder for them to maneuver around all our hate cards. Elves used to be among our toughest matchups but this card makes that matchup way better. It stops Green Sun's Zenith and Natural Order (and their ability to fetch a Dryad Arbor). They can still start to go off with Glimpse of Nature, but the priest will cause them to fizzle a much higher percentage of the time since Zenith and Natural Order become dead ends instead of power boosts and/or victory conditions. They also have very few ways to kill the priest. Combined with our many other disruption cards, the Elves matchup feels almost favorable now.
Cataclysm is great against Miracles and various other midrange-style decks that attempt to establish inevitability. It kills planeswalkers and destroys most of their lands. It also provides enough fuel to keep a Jotun Grunt around for several turns.
Absolute Law has proven to be the best card against UR Delver. It's not as good as Kor Firewalker against burn decks, but I expect to face a lot fewer of those than I will UR Delver decks. If the opponent only has four copies of Lightning Bolts and no other red removal or red creatures, I might still bring in one copy of Absolute Law but not both. If they have more red removal than just bolts or they also have red creatures. I'll usually bring in both. The card is almost unbeatable for UR Delver if they don't have the Force of Will. If you can afford it, play around Daze with this card. Don't let them stay in the game that easily!Other Cards to Consider
Aven Mindcensor is a solid card right now, but Containment Priest does a lot of the work against Elves that this did and Spirit of the Labyrinth picks up some of the slack against the blue decks that want to Intuition or whatever.
Mirran Crusader is great against Sultai decks, but those are not nearly as popular as Jeskai or UR right now. It's a little sad to leave this guy out of my deck, but I think everyone else is more important for this tournament. We'll see, I still have 24 hours to change my mind.
Oblivion Ring was a great sideboard catch-all and Council's Judgment basically took its place. Oblivion Ring is better against Show and Tell but Council's Judgment is better against True-Name Nemesis and Progenitus. It's a pretty close call and I would not fault someone for splitting it one and one, but I would rather get the additional percentage points against True-Name Nemesis now that I have Containment Priest in the deck.
Ratchet Bomb and Engineered Explosives are pretty good right now since it kills the flipped Delver of Secrets along with all the Elemental Tokens made by Young Pyromancer. In my experience, however, I was still losing the games where I did that because they would reload with Treasure Cruise and have a board full of Elementals again the following turn. I would rather fight them with Absolute Law, rendering useless all their red creatures and all the Lightning Bolts they cruise into.
Wilt-Leaf Liege was great against Liliana of the Veil and Hymn to Tourach decks, but those decks are seeing much less play now that a single Treasure Cruise can Undo all the work that those cards did up to that point in the game. I might add these back in if I feel like I need them last minute, but they seem poorly positioned right now.
Pithing Needle is a good and versatile sideboard card, especially against Sensei's Divining Top. I could see replacing the second Cataclysm with it, but I'm hoping Phyrexian Revoker will carry the slack here.
Mindbreak Trap is great against some of the combo decks that we would like help against, but those are bigger in Europe than in the States and I expect to face more Miracles, Delver, and Elves. So for this tournament I think Mindbreak Trap might stay out. Then again, that's exactly what someone would say if they wanted you to think they weren't running Mindbreak Trap. Then they get you with it! I haven't locked in my 75 yet, so it's still fair game for me to play it, and it is especially advantageous for you to play them since anyone who reads this article will think you copied my list and that you do not have Mindbreak Traps. Then you get them! You're welcome. J
Gut Shot is cheaper to cast but I prefer Sunlance. It can kill a Delver of Secrets that already flipped and can also kill a Wild Nacatl, Nettle Sentinel, Deathrite Shaman, and various other things. It won't kill a Mother of Runes, but why would I want to shoot my own mother in the gut? That's just sick and demented.
Enlightened Tutor is the big one. Most lists are running two Enlightened Tutors and a bunch of bullet hate cards. This adds versatility but would basically require us to cut Containment Priest, a card that is more powerful overall in the matchups it is good against. For instance, getting Grafdigger's Cage against Elves is similar to playing Containment Priest, but is not an option against Sneak and Show or Reanimator. If I were to run the Enlightened Tutor package, this is what my sideboard would look like:
2 Cataclysm2 Council's Judgment1 Sunlance2 Enlightened Tutor2 Rest in Peace1 Ethersworn Canonist1 Absolute Law1 Grafdigger's Cage1 Engineered Explosives1 Pithing Needle1 Circle of Protection: Red
If card availability is a concern and you don't have access to Containment Priests, this would be a reasonable alternate plan. As of right now I don't have Containment Priests, so I suppose I'm on this plan unless I can pick them up tomorrow at the GP.
If it costs me the GP, so be it, but at least I didn't keep a budding Commander player from developing an affinity for white decks. And perhaps more importantly, I didn't risk inadvertently starring in one of those "People of Wal-Mart" photos.
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter