I was going to write a pretentious bit of verbage called “Professional Magic” this week—but was saved by my love of sweet value creatures and even sweeter brews.
Ever since the printing of the Legacy- and Vintage-legal casual sets, Scavenging Ooze has taken off. I remember doing a set review of the Commander cards where I compared the Ooze to Withered Wretch, figuring it would see some niche play as a Green Sun’s Zenith target. I have never been more wrong about a card.
The first time I saw it in play, it was shutting off a Grim Lavamancer and stranding a Snapcaster Mage in hand, all while growing larger than a Titan and gaining life. An entire board position was neutralized by a single two-drop. Months later, I decided it was the best creature in the game. I haven’t changed my mind.
Still, despite this Eternal bomb being tucked away inside the Commander sets, I didn’t pay much attention to Planechase. Sure, I read the articles heralding Shardless Agent as a Hypergenesis enabler, but the wheels didn’t start turning until I saw Baleful Strix turning up in Vintage Tezzeret lists.
These are powerful value cards with a few subtle, but important, attributes. For one, they’re blue, which means they pitch to Force of Will. For another, they’re artifacts, which means they have synergy with cards like Mox Opal and Thopter Foundry.
My first instinct was to emphasize the artifact interaction, and I brewed a few different takes on value-affinity. Tests, however, proved troublesome. While the cards were powerful, and synergistic, they just weren’t fast enough for the turn two Cranial Plating deck.
For my second attempt, I figured that abusing both of the side benefits, blue and artifact, would be the way to get the most out of these cards. I had a few different hits, but the one I was excited about abused Ancestral Vision:
I went on an incredible tear with this deck, and thought it was the actual best thing ever. Since then, I’ve had a bad run or two to bring me back down to reality, but I still think it’s competitive. There are a few problems, including the manabase that’s weak to Wasteland and the business end of things that’s weak to Ancient Grudge, but the deck can still pull out wins by stringing sets of powerful cards together. Sometimes, Thopter Foundry just takes over. Other times, you use Sensei’s Divining Top or Brainstorm to set up a sweet cascade into Ancestral Vision, and bury the opponent in card advantage.
That all said, I don’t think this is the best Shardless Agent deck. As I explained in my metagaming article, I’m usually trying to be playing the best __ deck in given format, the blank being a given card or strategy that’s well positioned. And perhaps that’s my problem, that all this time I was trying to maximize the power of specific cards when I should’ve been looking for problems they can solve in existing archetypes (such as Shardless Agent in Hypergenesis). Consider the following list:
This is a take on BUG Nic Fit that Michael Caffrey brought to light. The innovation here isn’t the blue splash. In fact, the first version of the deck I ever saw ran blue for Gifts Ungiven, and several others have tried out [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card] and Brainstorm.
No, Michael’s true innovation is the addition of Baleful Strix as the best Wall of Blossoms of all time. This guy trades with everything, and ups the blue count for [card force of will]Force[/card] out of the board. Coiling Oracle also ups the blue count, while being a fantastic value creature that works well with the cantrips.
The trouble I always had with adding Force of Will is that the Green Sun’s Zenith package, marvelous as it is, requires too many slots devoted to dudes that slow the game down and make combat difficult for the opponent. As Michael realized, Coiling Oracle and Baleful Strix are both blue, non-embarrassing early game plays that continue to do work in the late game, which is exactly what the deck needed to support Force of Will.
That said, his list isn’t perfect. Eternal Witness is far too clunky of a card to run triplicate of, though it is great against controlling decks. Meanwhile, Fierce Empath, like Recurring Nightmare, is typically just worse than another Titan. Also, by not running Dryad Arbor, he’s decreasing his range of keepable hands, which is part of the strength of Green Sun’s Zenith in the first place. Force of Will, while a fine sideboard card, could be doing a lot more work in the main deck.
It would be cowardly to offer criticisms of his list without offering my own take, but fortunately I’ve had time to test out my own version. In the last local Legacy event I played in, I grabbed a pile of Legacy “playables” and built this masterpiece in the car ride there:
This deck plays brilliantly, with a robust mana engine and a full 13 cards devoted to cantripping or deck manipulation. Casting Shardless Agent, here, is one of the best feelings in the game, as every card it cantrips into is either a super fun value card or a card powerful enough to take over the game on its own.
The biggest problem with the deck used to be the unfair matchups. Sure, you could shred their hand with Cabal Therapy, but the deck couldn’t apply enough pressure to win before the combo deck drew out of it. Now, with Force of Will, there’s even more disruption, as well as insurance against topdecked wins. They have to draw into their own countermagic to win through your Force of Will, which makes them vulnerable to Therapy again.
The deck, while very competitive against large chunks of the field, isn’t the ideal 75 yet, and it’s especially weak to opposing planeswalkers. I’m still uncertain of my own planeswalker count, as they’re clunky against some archetypes, but game-ending against others. Perhaps the Negates in the board should be more Jace, the Mind Sculptors. Also, I miss being able to drop a Grave Titan into play and having it solve all my problems. The deck lacks the “I Win” factor that a more dedicated Green Sun’s Zenith build with larger creatures brings, but as of yet I haven’t had trouble killing people with Scavenging Ooze or burying them under card advantage.
“Buried under card advantage.” I use that phrase a lot. What happens to all those people buried under card advantage, anyway? Maybe they resurface, gasping, when an opponent [card hymn to tourach]Hymns[/card] himself with a Force or a Chrome Mox. Or maybe they’re gone forever, and it’s part of Marc Rosewater’s job to show up to their family’s home to deliver the bad news.
“Hello, mam. I’m sorry but your son died in a card tournament earlier today. Buried by card advantage.”
“Merciful heavens! Did… did he go easy?”
“No, he was mana screwed part of the game, and he made a series of blunders. It was terrible to watch, and he was in a lot of misery. Shameful stuff, really.”
Regardless of the logistics, at the very least it’d make a sweet tombstone. “Here lies Caleb, buried under card advantage.” If I have my way, I want my organs to be removed, like the Egyptians did, and placed in jars with different mana symbols on them, and the organ-holes could be filled with the confetti of shredded Ancestral Visions and Jace, the Mind Sculptors.
Consecrated Sphinx is another sweet blue draw engine but, rather than play a role in my speculative funeral, it plays a real-life role in the demise of my opponents in the above BUG list (Notice that seamless segue? Ahhh yeah). The Sphinx doesn’t have the ability to dominate a board on the spot like Grave Titan does, but it has enough of a presence to win a game while also being blue for Force of Will. It has a somewhat mitigating effect on a [card show and tell]Shown and Told[/card] Griselbrand, as the opponent typically can’t afford to give you 14 cards to his 7. It’s much weaker against [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card], of course, which is where a Hornet Queen would be ideal.
Later this week, I’m going to try testing Sphinx of Uthuun in that slot and see if that makes a difference. After all, getting the cards up front is almost certainly better, as is the point of power, but the extra mana sucks. I think that, if I was still trying to abuse Recurring Nightmare, Uthuun would already be in there. Can you imagine Fact or Fictioning into more giant monsters and sweet value creatures to Nightmare back into play? Flickering between Sphinx and Hornet Queen sounds like the durdliest thing ever, and it is, and you shouldn’t judge me for drooling on myself while I think about it some more.
While I’m still convinced that Elves is one of the best decks in Legacy, I am switching over to this BUG deck for the MN Open, and if it continues to perform then I’ll be playing it in the Invitational as well. Still, I’ve heard a number of requests for an updated Elves list.
Here’s what I recommend:
I suppose the changes are radical enough to justify a brief explanation.
In the main deck, I think two Priest of Titania is the correct number. It’s the best creature to put into play off an opposing Show and Tell, and the best creature to Green Sun’s Zenith up in a number of occassions (like the Elf mirror), but it dies a lot, and it’s unfortunately too clunky for that to be fine.
The main deck Viridian Shaman is necessary for Umezawa’s Jitte, Chalice of the Void, and things of that nature, but I wanted to fit in a Scavenging Ooze as well. To do this, I shaved a Heritage Druid. Heritage is secretly the worst card in the deck. It’s only relevant when you’re trying to go off, and then you only need one of them, and even still you can always Green Sun’s Zenith for it. The only reason to play 4 is as bait.
Moving the miser Mortarpod to the maindeck seems odd. This is a card that doesn’t draw a card for Green Sun’s Zenith or help you assemble the combo. Sometimes, when you draw it, you’ll want to tear it in half for not being an actual Elf. Other times, you’ll want to kiss it because it’s an answer to otherwise unanswerable main deck problems, like Grim Lavamancer out of RUG or Moat out of Stax or a flyer with an Umezawa’s Jitte or even a Goblin Sharpshooter.
In the sideboard, the biggest recent addition has been the Pithing Needles and [card garruk, primal hunter]Garruk[/card]. While Needle has a lot of fringe uses in Legacy, shutting off Goblin Charbelchers and Pernicious Deeds, my main purpose for these slots is as a concession to the UW Miracles matchup. The UW deck is incredibly reliant on Sensei’s Divining Top, both as a way to manipulate the reveal for Counterbalance and to set up a game-winning Terminus. Garruk is another sort of difficult to deal with threat. I don’t know how good he is, but he seems strong on paper.
I have heard of a few other options for the matchup. I saw Chris Anderson running Armageddon, which is better if the opponent doesn’t have Land Tax or Crucible of Worlds active. Adam Cai suggested Luminarch Ascension, which is awesome assuming they don’t have Engineered Explosives. On paper, I think pappa Garruk is best, but they’re all fine, test-worthy options.
That’s all for this week. Whatever event you’re preparing for, be it a local event or the upcoming Invitational in Atlanta, good luck.