Last week we took a trip down memory lane to delve into the upper echelon of power in Legacy. The decks we looked at were the Cream of the Crop, the ones that stand tall as the best the format has ever seen – many of which were central in getting specific overpowered spells banned in the format, and crystallizing themselves as never-to-be-returned-to-play paragons of bustedness.
This week, we take a slightly different look at the format – rather than celebrating the broken, we will show Reverence to the cool. The interactions buried deep within Legacy's expansive card pool allow for some unique and intricate combinations, and often allow the fundamental rules of Magic to be bent in interesting and unexpected ways. These are the decks that really make you Think Twice about how Magic is meant to be played and step outside the comfortable confines of "curve out, attack, win," into the obscure and odd.
So come along as we inspect the unexpected.
For a long time, one of the favorite ways to troll new and young judges was to ask them about the interaction of Humility and Opalescence – and, to further complicate things, to assume both Enchantments arrive on the battlefield via Replenish. Long gone are the days when any of these spells are relevant enough to even bother with this troll, but Leylines did its best to bring the lesser-played pair back to life.
The essence of this deck is not reliant on the impact of the Leylines, but rather on their ability to begin the game in play. An opening hand of four Leylines, an Opalescence, and a Serra's Sanctum will afford you 16 power of attackers on the first turn! Adding in a fifth Leyline gives you lethal damage before your opponent can play their first land! The rest of the deck – the tutors and Crop Rotations, basically – are meant to increase your chances of accomplishing this. Wolfmeyer's list also includes the combo of Leyline of the Void plus Helm of Obedience, because "why not?" You're already including half the combo and a bevy of tutors, so what's another slot or two?
Unfortunately this combo deck is quite fragile – that will be a bit of a theme as we move through these lists – relying heavily on the resolution of an Opalescence to fuel the deck. It has a powerful matchup against Dredge and other combo decks by virtue of the text on the Leylines themselves, but it does need to dedicate a lot of space to stopping real spells from the board. It mulligans poorly and often despite the inclusion of Serum Powder (a sure sign that you're in "going too deep" land), and has a hard time interacting with the board. Still, there are hands that are extremely powerful (especially against decks that can't easily disrupt the enchantments), and the unique path to victory sets it apart from more traditional Enchantress-style decks.
This deck is the only one I am aware of that is "soft-banned" from tournament play.
Your basic combo is convoluted, but boils down to this:
1. With Basalt Monolith and Mesmeric Orb both in play, you can tap the Monolith for 3 mana, and use that mana to untap the Monolith, milling one card from your library. You can repeat this cycle infinitely.2. You cycle through your library until you have three Narcomoebas, a Dread Return, a Blasting Station, and Sharuum the Hegemon in your graveyard. You Dread Return the Sharuum, which returns Blasting Station to play.3. Using Blasting Station, you sacrifice a Narcomoeba.4. Repeat step 1 until you hit Emrakul the Aeons Torn, which shuffles your graveyard into your library.5. Repeat step 1 until you hit Narcomoeba. It enters play and untaps Blasting Station.6. Repeat steps 3-5 until the opponent is dead.
Seems rather straightforward when laid out in this way, right? The problem is, Emrakul the Aeons torn is hiding somewhere in your library. That means, as you mill yourself one card at a time, it may take you hours to get to the point where you have all the appropriate cards in your graveyard at the same time, with Emrakul still in the library – and because this action does not constitute a closed loop*, you can't shortcut to that game state. You're left choosing a number of iterations with which to perform step 1, and if you have not arrived at the desired state once they expire, you are forced to stop – lest you be slapped with a penalty for stalling. Effectively, there is no way within the rules to execute this combo in a reasonable time frame.
*Despite the probability of "Emrakul as the last card in your library" being a function with limit = 1 given infinite iterations, this is not achievable in a round with finite time constraints. As each Emrakul requires a manual shuffle and resets the graveyard, there is no way to ensure that a given number of iterations will result in a specific game state; therefore the loop does not constitute an acceptable shortcut.
Rules debate aside (and trust me, there is still some debate as to the validity of this ruling), this deck is super cool. It's a subtle interaction between one of Magic's oldest cards and an odd artifact most often used to deck the opponent. Milling yourself for value is something we've been doing since Cephalid Breakfast hit the scene (we'll get there soon enough), and this deck utilizes many of the neat interactions of self-mill and obscure trigger stacking. That you Recycle your whole library for added value is the cream on top of a very interesting slice of pizza.
We've discussed Solidarity before in this series, in the context of "decks that you think might be good but probably are not." Once upon a time Solidarity was the king of The Island of Misfit Toys, but I can't with good conscience say it was ever as good as the hype. Still, Gearhart's claim to fame was unique amongst all Magic decks and remains so to this day.
This deck was specifically designed to contain only Instants. It is intended to capitalize on the opponent's need to play things on their own turn, and utilize the most flexible dominance of the stack ever seen in a deck to win literally in response to a kill.
The key to this instant-speed kill was Reset – an obscure Legends uncommon that was most often seen in bad versions of Stasis decks, meant to untap your lands to facilitate further upkeep on the annoying Enchantment. Gearhart and co devised a deck intending to use the spell as a cheaper-yet-narrower Early Harvest, letting you double your mana or more under a High Tide turn. Combining it with cheap cantrips and further untap spells like Turnabout (and later Snap), the deck could generate an absurd amount of mana, chaining draw spells until a Cunning Wish found a lethal Brain Freeze or Stroke of Genius.
Though the kill was a familiar one for those of us who played Extended High Tide or Heartbeat, the unique ability of Solidarity to win in response to damaging spells or lethal attacks was its greatest strength. This deck was one of the first to catapult a card from dime-rare to chase-rare, as the well of Resets dried up immediately after Dave's list broke the scene. The days of finding $30+ cards in the bulk bin at your LGS are long gone, but they were once alive and well, and Reset had a significant influence on that trend.
This deck has no lands. None. The most important part of playing spells in Magic is paying for them, and having access to mana to do so is a fundamental concept in deckbuilding. Oops All Spells flies in the face of that fundamental and scoffs at the idea of pesky lands getting in the way of its engine.
At root, OAS is a Goblin Charbelcher deck taken to the extreme. For years, we've seen one- or two-land Belcher decks that use Land Grant as a way to find the singleton Taiga for repeatable mana and a way to double-up on damage from a belch. With the introduction of Undercity Informer and Balustrade Spy, that pesky one land was merely an obstacle to be overcome.
Though there are no lands in the deck, there are certainly many mana sources, and the goal with the deck is to hit four mana to play and activate an Informer or to cast a Spy. The big difference between this deck and Belcher in those terms is that Belcher always required seven mana, which may as well be a billion compared to the much simpler four required by OAS. The tradeoff is a reliance on the graveyard to combo, but this is an acceptable trade for many.
That graveyard interaction is to incorporate the kill first found as a win in Cephalid Breakfast – the Narcomoeba/Dread Return combo returning Angel of Glory's Rise into Azami, Lady of Scrolls and Laboratory Maniac. A win both efficient and elegant, not much more says "I'm all in" than milling your entire library and then drawing a card. Fortunately by the time you're able to do so, the hope is that you've resolved as many Cabal Therapies as required to clear the way, and you can be safe to allow the static ability of Lab Maniac to win no matter the opponent's life total. I have a well-documented soft spot for Azami and Lab Maniac, and this deck is close to my heart for teaming the pair in competitive constructed. I've spent an embarrassingly large number of hours pontificating on the "perfect" Legacy Breakfast list, and it's still probably worse than OAS – which is saying something.
Though this deck may be based on a Belcher shell, it has allusions to another deck from Legacy's past, which I find much more interesting than yet-another-take-on-Storm-combo-Belcher. Once upon a time, a widely maligned poster on mtgTheSource.com proposed another manaless deck idea he dubbed as "Pitch World."
I have no idea how the creator of this deck expected to win a game. I suppose via Dryad beats? More recently I've seen variations on this theme that combine it with the Infect deck from the first Modern Pro Tour, running Blazing Shoal and Progenitus for maximum damage potential. Lacking lands, the deck runs Memnites and Ornithopters for Shoal targets, which has to be terrible.
On the other end of the spectrum from Oops All Spells, we have a deck that may look familiar to many of you.
This is the deck that put 43Lands.dec on the map, after running roughshod over German Nationals. It was the first, and possibly the last, to run the full 43 lands – though the deck kept the name well after dipping down to the 30-something range.
The key piece of the puzzle for this deck's creation was the Manabond + Life from the Loam engine. Loam allowed you to dig deep into your library to find lands and return them to your hand. Manabond allowed you to break the "one land per turn" rule wide open, and bin the Loam to dig even deeper. When adding the Onslaught cycle-lands into the mix, you had the ability to put a massive amount of lands on the board all at once. Failing the Manabond engine, you could also use Exploration to push beyond the bounds of the Magic rules.
At heart, 43Lands played like a prison deck, using Wasteland recursion, Rishadan Port, and Maze of Ith to put a Stranglehold on the opponent's ability to attack. Once the opponent had been crushed under wave after wave of disruption, it used a few man-lands to end the game. One of my teammates, who has been playing Lands for about the length of its existence, claims that the clock is his primary win condition. More than anything else this deck is extremely efficient at "Not Losing," especially post-board, and winning matches 1-0 is a huge part of the deck's strategy.
Of course, that was well before the deck incorporated its current Plan A of Thespian's Stage plus Dark Depths (referred to as "easy mode" by that same teammate). Where once a deck was required to grind out victory three damage at a time – often required to Wasteland its own Treetop Village to prevent exile via Swords to Plowshares – they can now find a couple of lands and hit for lethal in a swing or two at most. Marit Lage has changed the dynamic of the deck from a prison-style control deck to a combo deck with control elements, and some would say this change robs the format of something unique.
These decks were all attempts at exploiting something about Magic, and there is no better home for such attempts than Legacy. Though Vintage may have the deepest pool of legal cards of any format, the extreme power level of the restricted list causes the pool of playable cards to narrow significantly. With the expansive number of legal cards and lower relative power level, Legacy strikes the highest balance of playable spells out of all the constructed formats. There are corners in Legacy that are still unexplored a full decade after the inception of the format. Each new set contains hundreds of cards that have the capacity to unlock the latent potential in the tens of thousands of cards legal in Legacy, all the way back to the first sets. Though not every combo or deck turns out to be a winner, each is an important stone tile in the mosaic that tells the story of Legacy.
Tell me what you think of these decks, and let me know if there are any cool brews you think I've missed. What kinds of cards do you see as potentially broken by future printings? Are there any on your personal "watch and break" list? Be sure to drop into the comments and let me know!