Aluren has flown under the radar in Legacy for a long time. Nobody played it for a variety of reasons, and there were few questions asked about it. Recently, however, I made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Seattle with the deck and I think that it should become a bigger part of the conversation. There are still a lot of factors holding it back, but I want to help explain some of the intricacies of the deck to help you decide for yourself.
I have been playing the deck in Legacy since 2012 when I made the Top 8 of a Legacy Open the first time I picked up the deck, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I enjoy playing the deck especially because I always have a significant edge over my opponents, since they don’t know how to play against it. Aluren is extremely complicated to play against, because it can win with or without combo’ing, so opponents are often left guessing how to sideboard and how to play the games. The deck reminds me of Splinter Twin in Modern—it has a similar ability to play both styles.
After playing a complete tournament with the deck, I found that the games in which I resolved a Sylvan Library were so much easier than the games where I didn’t that I think it is worth the risk of drawing both copies. And, even though Force is a bad card in the deck because of the lack of blue cards, if you have it and a blue card in your hand against the decks that you would sideboard it in against, then you have a huge advantage and the single mana that you gain each turn from not having to hold up Swan Song matters a lot in those matchups.
The main draw to Aluren is that it has amazing matchups against fair decks while it always has a chance against everything else, because it can win with a combo regardless of the matchup. You don’t want to play against faster combo decks like Elves, Storm, Dredge, Reanimator, etc. because they can usually combo faster than you. Show and Tell is a solid matchup though, because you can actually beat some of their faster draws by putting Aluren into play off of Show and Tell and then win on the spot.
There are a lot of tricks that make this deck so resilient. The first and most important is the combo finish and how to beat removal spells.
The standard procedure for combo’ing with Aluren is to first cast Recruiter and get the rest of the Recruiters. Then you find Dream Stalker and cast it. Since Dream Stalker doesn’t target, you can cast it and as long as one of your Recruiters is alive, you can return it to your hand to find another Dream Stalker. Repeat this process to find Cavern Harpy. Play the Cavern Harpy (which also doesn’t target) to return Dream Stalker. Then recast the Dream Stalker, and then Imperial Recruiter to find Parasitic Strix. Now for the last part, you never want to have Parasitic Strix in play with Cavern Harpy on the stack because your opponent could kill your Strix and you won’t be able to bounce it. Pay 1 life to return Cavern Harpy to your hand. Then replay it, but with the bounce trigger on the stack, play Parasitic Strix to drain your opponent for 2. Use the trigger to return the Parasitic Strix to your hand and then you can pay 1 life to return Cavern Harpy. Then repeat this process.
If you think your opponent might have a split second spell to kill your Cavern Harpy, or if you think they might have 2 removal spells that could kill Parasitic Strix but not kill Dream Stalker: as soon as you play Cavern Harpy to return Dream Stalker, pay a life to return Cavern Harpy to your hand. If they kill it, use the Dream Stalker to bounce Recruiter to your hand to find Eternal Witness to continue combo’ing. If they don’t kill it, replay it to return another Dream Stalker, then return Cavern Harpy to your hand again and you will have access to multiple Dream Stalkers to break up removal spells on Parasitic Strix while combo’ing off.
Tips and Tricks
- I will often not combo using the above method in the first game because I want my opponent to leave in more removal spells for games 2 and 3.
- It is often best to leave a Cabal Therapy in your graveyard for the turn that you will combo off, especially if you are not worried about dying.
- Shardless Agent can hit Abrupt Decay so be careful about casting it into an empty board. Sometimes you have no choice, but if you can help it, then you don’t have to cast it.
- I almost always lead with Deathrite Shaman over Cabal Therapy or Thoughtseize unless I think I might die on turn 2.
- Brainstorm is probably the best card in Legacy, and it is extremely good in this deck because it lets you shuffle away cards that can be fairly useless like Parasitic Strix and Dream Stalker.
- Speaking of Dream Stalker, don’t forget that you can cast it to get another Baleful Strix or Shardless Agent trigger. It also can be a great Tarmogoyf blocker in some games.
- You can use Brainstorm to set up a Shardless Agent cascade, or you can use the cascade to clear useless lands from the top of your deck if you put them there with Brainstorm.
- Cabal Therapy is one of the most important cards in the deck and naming the most important card for your opponent is crucial, but also be careful not to cast it when your opponent leaves up Brainstorm mana because that is a difficult guessing game to play. (I will go over specific cards to watch for in each matchup section.)
- Sometimes it is best to just play Imperial Recruiter to get another Recruiter so that you can flashback Cabal Therapy or chump block or even so that you can return it with a Dream Stalker to use it again.
This is one of the best matchups especially since they no longer have Dig Through Time. The way that they beat you most of the time is by going threat into threat and hoping that you don’t have any way to disrupt it like Abrupt Decay or Baleful Strix. They also have to hope that you can’t combo that quickly. Overall that makes the matchup extremely difficult for them, especially because you can easily beat them with the combo, but it is also very easy to win without it.
Cards to name with Cabal Therapy: Force of Will, Daze, Spell Pierce are the cards that I most often name but on the play it is acceptable to name a threat like Tarmogoyf if you have limited answers to it. Stifle can also break up the combo so that’s a card to consider.
There are many versions of Delver and depending on certain cards, you sideboard slightly differently:
If they have Young Pyromancer and/or True Name Nemesis, I sideboard in Minister of Pain for either a Shardless Agent or a Bone Shredder. (I cut Bone Shredder if they are Grixis because it doesn’t kill Gurmag Angler.)
This matchup is also heavily favorable for you but it is extremely difficult to play. First of all, when combo’ing off, Miracles can cast a Terminus in response to the first Dream Stalker and that will break up the combo unless you have another Recruiter. The way to get around that is to cast the first two Recruiters right away and then if they don’t do anything, wait until they’ve already drawn a card on their turn to go off. That way they won’t be able to miracle a Terminus because they have already drawn a card.
The difficulty of this matchup comes from the fact that they have many ways to disrupt the combo but the combo isn’t the only way that you can win.
The way that they beat you is by having a Top in play to improve their draws all game and then a Counterbalance that you can’t answer. Remember, Miracles often doesn’t play that many cards with CMC of 3, so an Imperial Recruiter for Reclamation Sage can often pick off Counterbalance. By resolving an early Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Entreat the Angels with Force to back it up, they have a chance to win the game. Without a Jace, Miracles will run out of cards in a long game because Aluren has so many 2-for-1s that Miracles can’t keep up.
Cards to name with Cabal Therapy: Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Force of Will, Counterbalance, Counterspell, Sensei’s Divining Top (on turn 1 on the play only), Brainstorm (only if they are tapped out and had no chance to cast it yet).
Miracles now has cards that can break up the combo in Wear // Tear and Izzet Staticaster and discard spells are not that good in a long game against Top, but Cabal Therapy is too good in the deck to cut in this matchup.
This matchup is very similar to Delver but I think it deserves its own section because it is very difficult to beat them without the combo. They have too much card advantage, so keep that in mind when playing against the deck. I would sideboard in the same way because I think that Scavenging Ooze is still very good against them but it’s more likely to die because they play a ton of spot removal.
Fast Combo Decks (Without Creatures)
This matchup is tough. They combo faster than you do and it is hard to disrupt them. Cabal Therapy is not at its best here because against something like Storm there are multiple cards to name, the same is true against a deck like Reanimator.
This is also not a great matchup because Elves is just faster and it is fairly difficult to disrupt Elves. After sideboard some Elves players will bring in discard spells, but it’s better to just go all-in on the combo because Elves is a faster combo deck that is hard to stop.
I can’t go through every matchup because there are way too many decks in Legacy. But, for other matchups, sideboarding with Aluren can be difficult. I often take out 1 Forest and 1 Dream Stalker unless I need all of the lands that I can get (like against RUG Delver) or I absolutely need to combo off to win (like against other combo decks, or when you bring in Force of Will). The other flexible slots include Reclamation Sage, Thoughtseize, Shardless Agent, Abrupt Decay, and Sylvan Library. Some number of Cabal Therapys can come out, but only under unusual circumstances.