While I typically try to do a Legacy-based set review for each expansion, it’s tough to get a real picture of what the impacts (or even impactful cards) of a set are when you’re only just about halfway through the spoiler. Much like any other question of great importance, like, “where should I eat dinner?” or “should I build a beer pong table?” I went to the one resource I could count on for solid advice: Twitter.
When I asked, “Is it worth doing a preliminary review of RTR spoiled cards, or do you prefer to see the whole set at the same time?” there were a number of gracious responders who were willing to steer me in a direction. Ultimately, the overwhelming majority said to wait and do the set as a whole, and I will certainly do a set review—but there’s something I have to talk about ahead of time. I have enough to say about just one card (and, of course, its implications) to break it out from the overall set review and discuss it on its own:
At first glance, this card appears to be a more cost-prohibitive Day of Judgment variant, printed for the purpose of reducing the impact of counterspells on Standard. This assessment is probably accurate, but it doesn’t take into consideration the dynamics of the eternal formats, or how game-changing the uncounterable clause on this effect can be.
Right now, Legacy is in a flux. We’re still trying to balance out the impacts of M13 (and specifically, Omniscience—which I have a whole other article written about somewhere) and haven’t really figured out what our top decks are. What we know for sure is that there’s a Rock-Paper-Scissors metagame again, with aggro-control decks like RUG and Stoneblade keeping degenerate decks in check; aggressive creature decks from the recent SCG Opens like the Junk/White Weenie/Maverick decks keeping RUG in check; and the degenerate decks like OmniTell keeping the creature decks in check. In any given week we can have a bunch of different strategies succeed, but they mostly boil down to those three categories: Aggro-Control, Combo, and Aggro.
The thing that makes Supreme Verdict so special, the part that changes the fundamental dynamics of the format right now, is that it beats two thirds of that group in a way you weren’t able to before.
In a way, RUG is the litmus test of Legacy. As the deck that held the title of “best deck” most recently, and for a longer time than nearly any other, it has shaped the format. A deck’s viability is defined by its ability to handle a turn one [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card] backed by multiple counterspells, or a similar “undercosted threat followed by disruption” line of play.
It also has to bring its defenses up early enough to dodge burn spells as reach, while playing through cards like Daze and Spell Pierce which force you to intentionally delay your plays. It’s a fine line to walk, and while some decks are capable of doing so, many are not. This is why we’ve seen a lack of decks like MUD in the format, even when it would seem like Chalice of the Void would trump the RUG deck entirely. The overall strategy doesn’t lend itself to beating RUG, despite the inherent power level of the individual cards.
Where many decks have found success is by taking the fight to RUG. While a deck like Stoneblade, with an equally small number of threats and removal, may falter because it can’t resolve a winning play, Elves or Maverick may succeed through the process of throwing as many threats at RUG as possible, and hoping one sticks.
Aside: Back in 2006, when I was actively participating in the Northeast Vintage scene, Team Meandeck developed what was at the time a revolutionary deck, dubbed “PitchLong.” Essentially, it was the combo deck GrimLong (a Dark Ritual-based Storm deck that used Grim Tutor to break the restricted list), removing a bunch of redundancy and Duress-type cards to add a playset of Force of Will and Misdirection. This increased the deck’s speed significantly—free spells helped to protect you on the critical turn, and since they’re free, you can go off sooner.
What the players eventually realized was that this actually made the deck worse, because Faster was not always Better. By changing the way the deck interacted with opposing blue decks, you lost the ability to just punch at them with game-ending bombs turn after turn, and were forced to set up a hand that could win with backup. By making the deck faster, you forced it to find more pieces, and it actually had the inverse effect that was intended. Eventually, PitchLong faded, and GrimLong appeared in Top 8s occasionally for quite a while after that.
Basically, because RUG is great, and because it’s a known quantity—both in its strengths and weaknesses—it sets the pace of the format. If you’re planning on playing expensive spells, you need to have the mana base (with a heavy slant to basic lands) to be capable of playing those spells through Spell Pierce and Daze.
You also need to play enough cheap removal to see turn six. If you’re planning to attack, your threats need to be survive a Lightning Bolt, and you should play more than a few, because you’ll need to apply sufficient pressure through their efficient threats—many of which may actually be better than the threats you’re playing. If you’re trying to combo off, you need to do so with enough protection or pressure to punch through a wall of counterspells backing up efficient threats.
These are pretty big hoops to jump through.
Supreme Verdict changes the dynamics of those hoops on a fundamental level.
As many of you are aware, I have a particularly debilitating love affair with Enlightened Tutor. Because of this, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to play some four-mana, sorcery speed spells. I’ve played innumerable Moats, [card humility]Humilities[/card], and [card wrath of god]Wraths of God[/card], and I have the chops to give some insight into what’s different about this one.
Moat is a great card against RUG. The only creatures they have to attack through a resolved Moat are flipped Delvers, and those are particularly easy to kill for a deck that’s probably playing Swords to Plowshares. They also don’t have any main deck way to remove it, so if you manage to stick a Moat, often they can’t win—or are forced to try and burn you out through it. The hard part is getting it to resolve.
Humility is a great card against RUG. While many of their creatures start out with 1 power anyway, forcing them to stay that small (especially since there aren’t many of them) can allow you the time you need to exert complete control. It’s difficult for a deck with only a small number of threats to punch through any kind of defense when Humility is in play, and having any kind of incidental life gain is often the death knell for them.
Unfortunately, four mana is a TON against a deck with Daze, Spell Pierce, Wasteland, and Force of Will. You’re hard pressed to win against them if you invest four or so cards and as many mana into protecting a “threat,” while they can stop you almost for free. That’s the reason you’re a dog to RUG, even when you have cards like Wrath, Moat, and Humility to trump them on paper.
And yet, the RUG deck still only runs 12 threats.
This vulnerability (the fact that they don’t actually have very many “real” cards in their deck, instead filling it up with cantrips and disruption) is one that’s not so heavily exploited by the format right now. Part of the reason is because Spell Pierce is so good at stopping the rest of the format from doing so. Each of RUG’s threats are:
What this means is that you aren’t required to be particularly flashy or tricksy to beat them—you just need to actually get it done.
Once, I was playing RUG at a local event, and lost to a player who was playing his Standard BG Elves deck. It wasn’t that his deck was better than mine, it was just that I couldn’t deal with a bunch of 4/4s every turn of the game. Not flashy—just consistent. I’ve heard similar stories from a countless number of players. In fact, if you want to get a Standard player interested in Legacy, you should let them play their Standard Zombies deck against RUG. You’ll get crushed, it will rule, they’ll be hooked.
The thing is, if you’ve ever actually resolved a Wrath of God against RUG, you understand that it does destroy them. When you’ve run them out of ways to interact, or forced them to overcommit to the board to keep parity with you, it’s devastating when you wipe the board. Much like a Pernicious Deed activation, clearing the battlefield can have a significant impact on the ability for them to actually win the game. It’s not a question of whether the play is good enough or not, but rather a question of whether you’ll be able to survive to the point of being able to resolve a four-mana spell. Generally speaking, the answer is “No.”
So, if control is such an underdog to RUG, why is Miracle Control seeing success?
In a word: Terminus.
Terminus is the first Wrath variant we’ve had that breaks the paradigm of the traditional sweeper. Because you get to play it for a single mana, you can play around Spell Pierce and Daze much more effectively. You get to trade up, often getting a two- or three-for-one, where your Wrath of God would have just been countered. Being cheap (and therefore less vulnerable to “soft” counterspells), not being potentially instant speed, is the real reason Terminus is a viable card in this format. Well, that and the existence of Brainstorm, [card sensei's divining top]Top[/card], and [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace’s[/card] +0 ability.
While many may point to the presence of Terminus as a reason why Supreme Verdict won’t see play, I see it as proof that the card has a place in the format.
RUG can’t stop Verdict. They have no way to favorably interact with the spell at all. It can’t be Dazed, [card red elemental blast]Red Blasted[/card], [card force of will]Forced[/card], [card spell pierce]Pierced[/card], or [card spell snare]Snared[/card]. They can’t bounce their creatures, regenerate, or make them indestructible. They have no recursive threats, and they don’t have the ability to shuffle their graveyard into their library. When Verdict happens, it just does. The only thing RUG can do is play around it—holding threats back to have a second wave after the first Verdict resolves (which it will). As the control deck with the inevitable end game, isn’t that exactly what you want them to do? Isn’t that exactly what will buy you the time you need to get to said end game? When you know your Wrath will resolve, when you aren’t concerned with whether you’ll run into a counter and die on the spot, you can orchestrate a game plan around this from turn 0 onward. You can fetch differently, respond to different spells, assign threat value differently, and simply play better with the knowledge that you’ll be able to trump them on turn 4 no matter what.
Supreme Verdict will change the dynamics of Legacy in a significant way.
Beyond the direct impact to RUG, many players have been saying that the card essentially kills any hope Merfolk had of being a deck ever again. I’m not so sure, but it is a great card against them, where Wrath never was. It’s essentially the same as Wrath of God against non-blue decks, although [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card] does survive it.
That isn’t where the story ends.
One of the biggest hurdles one faces with a blue-white control deck in Legacy is the tension between stack control and board control. While having access to Force of Will is one of the great strengths of the control archetype, stuffing your deck full of board control in order to deal with the powerful threats of the format means you aren’t able to afford as many slots for stack control to stop the degenerate decks from rolling you when you draw all your dead cards against them.
While on the surface, the mana cost of Supreme Verdict seems to make it more restrictive to cast, it’s actually the best thing Wizards could have done for the card—they made it blue. This, of course, means you can pitch it to Force of Will.
Normally, I’m not the type of player to point to the fact that a card is pitchable to Force in the rundown of benefits. It’s very rare that there’s a card you want to pitch to Force as part of the overall strategy of playing the card. Yes, it’s great that Jace pitches to Force. Usually, that’s not what you want to do with it.
Verdict is a little different. As I said, there’s a tension in Legacy control between stack and board control elements. The problem is, in many matchups, one half of these cards are either extremely ineffective or completely dead. When you’re playing against a deck like OmniTell, Wrath of God is nearly a stone blank. For every time they run out a naked Show and Tell and put [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card] into play, there are a hundred or more where it’s Griselbrand or Omniscience and you’re dead with a Wrath in hand.
Since you’re running on the low end of blue spells in your deck anyway (Adam Ruprecht’s UW Miracle deck from SCG Portland had 22, and that’s actually a high number), having a bunch of cards that have little impact on specific matchups and have a net negative on the effectiveness of Force of Will in the deck can mean you’re either grasping for blue cards to pitch to Force, or you’re forced to pitch cards like Jace, [card vendilion clique]Clique[/card], or other counterspells in order to stop the degenerates. What if, instead, you got to pitch those dead cards?
Before the spoiling of Supreme Verdict, I would never have considered the idea of a Wrath that cost 2U/W U/W, but I would have loved to have it available. If there was a blue/white hybrid Swords to Plowshares, I would buy a playset on the spot. Even though the cards are actually worse (as they become vulnerable to Red Blast on top of all the other problematic cards), the fact that they’re now useful blanks rather than stone blanks in your hand means the added vulnerability is 100% worth it.
Let’s see if I can make this clearer. The fact that you can pitch Wrath of God to Force of Will is not just a nice little bonus tacked on to the end of this card’s highlight reel—it’s the piece of the puzzle that secures its place in the main decks of UW control decks in the format, and allows them to have more game against the field rather than just against board-intensive aggro decks.
I haven’t done rampant amounts of testing with this card yet, because I’m interested in getting a bit more of the spoiler available before I really dive headlong into Return to Ravnica. However, I know two things:
1. The presence of the card means more pure control-style decks are viable, not just StoneBlade and Miracles. Perhaps this poises us for the return of Landstill, or maybe Ancestral Vision is a card again.
2. Counterbalance, which has increased its market share for the last few months, is probably not where you want to go with this deck now, mostly because of other cards that have been spoiled already. Frigging Golgari.
I’m planning to start with something like this as my first draft:
The numbers and configuration are meant to give me some idea of what’s going to be important in the deck, but it’s entirely possible that the deck is fine as-is. With a reduced reliance on the Miracle mechanic, you can survive without Top. Because your Wrath effect is reasonable to cast without its Miracle cost, you can err on the side of raw power in draw spells, rather than selection.
You’re a lot more capable of surviving until a Vision hits the stack due to the full set of Wrath effects, so the long delay until the draw spell arrives is less of an issue than it has been since Mental Misstep was banned. The Snapcaster Mages may be ambitious, but they provide a reasonable roadblock while doubling up on Swords, and you get to strap them to a Jitte once in a while, as well. The same goes for Clique—there’s few better ways to set up a turn four Jace than with an end-of-turn Clique.
The mana base is a point of contention, for sure. I’m not positive whether it’s beneficial to splash for a tertiary color or to stay UW. Each of the other three colors has offerings, though it’s likely that having black for hand disruption against Show and Tell decks is the most important. It also opens up Lingering Souls, if that’s something you’re into. Personally, I’ve found that I hate losing to Choke more than basically any other card, so I’ve included a Glacial Fortress to play around it a bit, though it’s not a must-include by any measure.
There’s also room to debate whether you can support colorless lands (and how many), as well as if they should be [card mishra's factory]Factories[/card], [card wasteland]Wastes[/card], or some other utility land like Academy Ruins. I have considered Mystic Gate a number of times, and it seems good here as a way to fetch basic Island for as long as possible, and then drop the Gate on turn four to make WW for Verdict. In this build, it may just be worse than another fetchland, because you really want to have a blue mana on turn one for Vision, and you can afford to fetch a million basics of both types.
It’s rare that I see a card like this one, which has the potential to really shake things up in an eternal format. It probably doesn’t seem like such a rare thing, as it happens more and more frequently in modern design, which has been great for the eternal formats. It really pushes the envelope of deck building and forces players to adapt. The rest of the spoiled cards from Return to Ravnica look great, both for Legacy and for Magic overall, and I’m excited to return both to the plane and to the set once I see the full spoiler. I’m getting excited to brew Legacy again, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt that way. God help me when Simic cards start dropping.