It’s been a few weeks since the spoiling of Avacyn Restored, and I’ve had time to test the new cards a bit more. As of yet, I don’t have a shell that can abuse Cavern of Souls, but I have made progress as far as Temporal Mastery is concerned. Initially, I suggested the card might be fine in RUG as a two of, replacing Snapcaster Mage. My logic was that both cards have the potential to win games off the top of the library, don’t want to be drawn early, and can be pitched to Force of Will.
After testing the card, I no longer feel this way. It’s too much work to set up, and RUG wants to be using its resources to elongate the early game, not advance into the midgame quicker. As such, Temporal Mastery solves no existing problems for the deck, which Snapcaster does (giving depth to the deck’s assortment of reach and disruption).
I have found a Legacy deck that wants to run the card.
Ever since it was removed from the Legacy banned list, Dream Halls has seen a host of different win conditions, using everything from Searing Wind + Magister Sphinx to Cruel Ultimatum chains to convoluted recyclings of Fire/Ice. The current win condition of choice involves casting a False Cure before targeting the opponent with a Beacon of Immortality, and that combination is still in the sideboard. However, I’ve adapted a more elegant win condition for the main deck.
After I get a Dream Halls into play, either through Show and Tell or hardcasting, I can pitch a card to Conflux, tutoring for three Progenitus, Conflux, and Force of Will. By pitching Progenitus to cast the second Conflux, the 10/10 shuffles back in, and the next tutored pile is two Progenitus, two Conflux, and a Temporal Mastery. The next two Conflux also fetch Temporal Mastery, and when I finally drop Progenitus I can take a few extra turns to win on the spot.
This runs into some weaknesses that the False Cure plan avoids, such as Humility, Moat, or Ensnaring Bridge, but the occasional loss to those cards (in the maindeck) doesn’t compare to the losses we’d pick up by drawing more dead cards. The sideboard, which I based on Ari Lax’s list, let’s us switch into the more direct win condition post board, when opposing answers to Progenitus, like Meekstone, are more prevalent. Cards like Perish or Phantasmal Image, while effective against a Show and Told Hydra, are less good against Dream Halls, where the opponent will never get a turn to cast a sorcery speed answer.
Temporal Mastery does work in this list, and the deck can take advantage of all aspects of an extra turn. Progenitus is there to use the combat step. The extra land drops let the deck ramp up to Dream Halls if it doesn’t draw a Show and Tell, where it might be a turn or two too slow before. Meanwhile, the draw step in the extra turn serves as a cantrip, helping the deck see more cards and put the combo together.
Dream Halls compensates for the downsides to Temporal Mastery well. Like most blue decks in Legacy, it sports the full four Force of Wills, which both protect the combo and make use of potentially dead cards. It also contains the requisite quad Brainstorm, which can turn dead miracle cards in hand into extra turns. Even the card Dream Halls can make good use of a Temporal Mastery and a Progenitus, no Conflux required.
One of the greatest criticisms of Temporal Mastery is that, sometimes when you hit it, it’s just an Explore. Well, here’s a combo deck that could actually use an Explore! In fact, one of the reasons I’ve always dismissed Dream Halls as a competitive strategy is because its slow hands win on turn four, which is a turn after when a combo deck should be locking up the game in Legacy. Similarly, this has been my problem with the Progenitus win condition as well. Even if you turn two that Progenitus, it can be raced by the format’s aggro decks. Now, that problem has an answer, and turn one Brainstorm, turn two Show and Tell → Progenitus, turn three Miracle Temporal Mastery for the win is a reasonable line.
How good is this new interaction? Before, I wouldn’t touch this archetype with a ten foot pole. Now, I think it’s the best combo deck in the format.
Not that that’s saying much, as combo in general is a bad choice so long as RUG is tier one. Still, it’s a better choice than other archetypes since it’s somewhat resilient to Daze, Countertop, Stifle, and spot removal. Hive Mind might have the lands to play around Daze, but the combo itself is weak to it. Painter might be naturally resilient to blue disruption, but can lose to a well placed Lightning Bolt. Storm is weak to most disruption and pressure, with Thalia and Countertop being the most relevant problems.
I agree with Ari Lax in that, since Sneak and Show lacks an instant win, it’s a weaker choice than either Hive Mind or Dream Halls. Both [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card] and Progenitus have their answers in the format. Emrakul is weak to Karakas, and Progenitus can be flat out raced. I’m much more comfortable with the cheat-a-fatty plan as the backup, rather than the plan A.
Playing the Deck
As with most cantrip-based combo decks, sequencing is key. The fetchlands are there to interact with the cantrips, so use them wisely! It’s typically incorrect to Brainstorm turn one, but that doesn’t mean you should never do it. Always have a reason for what you’re doing. Consider the following hand, which came up during playtesting:
Sample Hand #1
So many options! I started by playing the Island and Lotus Petal before casting Brainstorm (with the idea of setting up turn two and three Time Walk). I didn’t do this because I thought it was the correct play, but because it was just so adorable.
In my second extra turn I drew Brainstorm, casting it and drawing Intuition, a second Daze, and a fetch. I put back the fetch and the Daze, played Ancient Tomb, and Intuitioned for Conflux at the end of my opponent’s second turn.
I don’t think I took the correct line this game. The more traditional turn one Ponder, turn two Brainstorm plus fetch might’ve had more value. If I still wanted to Time Walk a few times, I’d play my land and crack it before Brainstorming to keep the Masterys on top. Even then, shuffling away one of the Masterys isn’t a bad idea, as I can regain that extra turn when I combo off with Dream Halls and Conflux (in my line above I can only take one extra turn post combo, since I only run three Temporals). This gives the opponent another turn of digging to potentially prevent Dream Halls from resolving, but that could be less scary than passing the turn with a Dream Halls in play.
I like hands like this, because it makes me question my deckbuilding decisions. From the way that game played out, I can see some advantages to keeping the False Cure and Beacon of Immortality in the Maindeck, or maybe going up to four Temporal. Other times, I’ll draw Temporal on turn one, and it’ll feel like drawing a second Squadron Hawk in old Standard, and I’ll be glad I’m only running three.
Sample Hand #2
The following hand came up in a game one against RUG
I started this game by cracking the Petal for Brainstorm, fetching, and Brainstorming again. This line takes some guts, since waiting a turn will see an extra card, and if I was playing against a deck like Maverick or UW I would’ve been more patient, but RUG is too good at applying pressure and digging for the right disruption.
As it was, I bricked and died, but still think my line was correct. Magic is a game of risk management, and sometimes it’s correct to make the ballsy play.
Sample Hand #3
Skill test! This one’s a mulligan. I might feel differently if one of the lands was a Sol Ring, since Pondering into Dream Halls becomes a more realistic option, but as is this hand is going nowhere fast (except back into the deck).
I remember an interesting match I played against Dream Halls with Ad Naus. My opponent started game three with a Chalice of the Void for zero, then Show and Told in a Dream Halls on turn three. He didn’t have the win, but Cruel Ultimatumed me down to two cards before dropping a Progenitus and passing the turn.
I knew this would be my last turn to make Ad Nauseam relevant, and a Cabal Ritual gave me the juice to go for it with a black floating. I flipped cards like the game depended on it, even dropping to a scary single life without seeing a Dark Ritual. I stared at the pile of cards in my hand, and was about to concede, but I remembered something I’d known long ago.
I picked up Dream Halls and read it, carefully, before casting all of my spells for free and winning the game. I don’t know if you’ve ever cast Ad Nauseum from a low life total, but near the end the flipping brings a sense of constriction, of claustrophobia. Soon, there will be no more life, no more cards, and no more options. With that in mind, suddenly being able to cast all of my spells gave me a rush of freedom and power I doubt I’ll ever feel in this game again.
Earlier today, an opponent cast a planeswalkwer for free, pitching a Force of Will. He almost won the game because of it. Such is the danger of symmetrical abilities, as a Hive Mind player might find out if an opponent can actually pay for his Pact.
The Big Three
Before I take any deck to a tournament, I try and jam as many games against Legacy’s current tier one as possible: Esper Blade, RUG, and Maverick. I only settled on the list in this article a few days ago, but I’ve jammed enough games against the main decks to share some thoughts.
Note that I’m still experimenting with some of the sideboard plans, and they are by no means set in stone.
From the combo side of things, I definitely enjoyed playing against this deck more when it didn’t run discard. Preboard, Dream Halls is favored. Esper can win, but it has more dead cards. A Progenitus will likely race a Batterskull, but not a Batterskull with a Sword on it.
Most lists only run three Force of Wills in the main. Your opponent has to keep his opener blind, not knowing you’re on combo, and most of the time it’s correct to go for it. If they have the Force for your Show and Tell, so be it. That just means the next one you draw is more likely to resolve.
Post board, Esper Blade brings in more countermagic, Disenchant, and answers to Progenitus, which is enough to make me uncomfortable. If they ran more than one Intuition, I’d be tempted to bring in the White Leylines, as then the card would be doing more than stopping discard.
If I had a lot of Esper Blade in my meta, I’d consider boarding 2-3 Jace, the Mind Sculptors.
The nightmare of combo decks everywhere. The good news is, cards like Spell Snare, Stifle, Wasteland, and Lightning Bolt are all worse than usual. The bad news is, many lists make good use of Spell Pierce, and some run Red Elemental Blasts out of the board.
In game one, try and catch them without relevant disruption. The later the game goes, the less likely this is to happen. Sure, sometimes you’ll be blasted in the face with free/cheap countermagic, but that’s better than being bled out at your opponent’s pleasure. As against Esper, sometimes it’s correct to go for it and hope they lose to a Progenitus.
Post board, Countertop doesn’t shut you away by itself, but Red Elemental Blast is backbreaking. I would rather be on the RUG side of things, but the match is not unwinnable for Dream Halls.
The heavy green decks are one of the only reasons to be running combo in this environment. Sometimes they can race, or a lucky Thalia will keep you from finding your win conditions, but more often then not they’ll just lose to whatever broken strategy you’re cramming down their throat.
I’m much happier on the Dream Halls side of this matchup.
I hope you enjoyed the primer.