I’m still reeling from the GP Strasbourg results. The European metagame has always differed from the States, but this is something else entirely. I almost did a “The Good, the Bad, and the Weird” tribute, but none of the following lists are bad and all are some level of weird.
Part I: The Only Thing Certain
The craziness starts with two Death and Taxes decks in the Strasbourg Top 8. I wasn’t surprised by Enevoldsen, as he Top 32’d GP Ghent and took down the Danish Legacy Masters with the same deck. I’ve played him in the Top 4 of a Cinci Open and he played well there, too.
Due to his success, it’s natural that someone else played his list, especially a team member. Both Top 8’ing, though? That’s goes beyond player proficiency to something more, telling us that Death and Taxes is a strong choice for the current field.
For reference, the list:
Death and Taxes, by Thomas Enevoldsen (1st)
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Eiganjo Castle
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Rishadan Port
4 Aether Vial
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Mother of Runes
4 Phyrexian Revoker
3 Mirran Crusader
2 Mangara of Corondor
2 Aven Mindcensor
1 Fiend Hunter
2 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Gut Shot
2 Rest in Peace
2 Wilt-Leaf Liege
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Pithing Needle[/deck]
The last time I wrote about Death and Taxes was when I cited [card]Flickerwisp[/card] in my article on underplayed cards. It’s interesting to check out how Enevoldsen’s list has changed since then. Notably, Mangara and [card]Flickerwisp[/card] got trimmed and [card]Serra Avenger[/card] was cut completely in favor of [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card] and [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]. Before, he was experimenting with various Swords as another [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] target, and he must have found the extra equipment unnecessary.
This deck fools the eye. On paper, it looks like an aggro deck. In reality, it’s more of a prison/control deck that hopes to lock the opponent out of the game. To win, the pilot needs to be able to adjust his plan around what the opponent is doing, which requires not only a strong understanding of his own deck but also of the format and Magic in general.
Death and Taxes is an underpowered deck with a high amount of interaction, and mistakes are punished hard. It has its fair share of free wins what with the hate cards, equipment, and land disruption, but it’s also running two-mana 2/1s. The last time I ran it, I lost to Belcher a lot, and the last time I played against it I shrugged it off with TinFins. As such, I would look to include some number of [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card]s and/or [card]Surgical Extraction[/card]s to the board.
Fighting Death and Taxes correctly requires some working knowledge of the deck, as playing around a Vialed-in [card]Flickerwisp[/card] isn’t something people do naturally. [card]Dread of Night[/card] is the perfect hate card.
Part II: A Twist on the Old
While the popularity of [card]Terminus[/card] has died down some, you can still expect to face Miracles over the course of a large event. Since Maverick almost died out in the States due to Miracles, its Top 8 appearance perplexes me.
Then again, the Europe metagame is different, and their control decks reflect that.
UW Miracles, by Raphael Levy (13th)
4 Flooded Strand
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Windswept Heath
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Force of Will
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Entreat the Angels
1 Detention Sphere
2 Ethersworn Canonist
2 Jace Beleren
2 Path to Exile
2 Rest in Peace
1 Relic of Progenitus[/deck]
This is a unique list, with fewer lands and more [card]Ponder[/card]s. This increases the deck’s consistency, makes it rely less on Top, and reduces flood. Due to the extra cantrips, the 1- and 2-ofs are easier to find and are thus more relevant than those of other decks, which partially accounts for the maindeck Disenchant.
Advantage generators like [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card] can serve as trumps in the grindier matchups like Jund or Esper Blade. Before, the deck relied on [card]Counterbalance[/card] for this role, but if the card got discarded early, or answered with an [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], you could too easily flood out. I’ve lost a lot of games against Esper by drawing a pile of unnecessary lands and ineffective removal, and the addition of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] + [card]Ponder[/card] might fix that.
This version has a rougher time against combo game one, since it can no longer sack into the turn two CounterTop lock with any sort of consistency, but the additional cantrips will help find the relevant hate cards post-board. I like how [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] can actually pressure a combo opponent, too.
Speaking of relevant hate cards, I like [card]Flusterstorm[/card] over [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] in this deck. Not only does it interact well with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], but it also avoids getting hit by the [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]s your opponent will be bringing in for [card]Counterbalance[/card]. [card]Flusterstorm[/card] hits more decks, too.
A neat trick to play with [card]Flusterstorm[/card] is to let it float on top of your library with [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card]. If the opponent manages to strip the rest of your hand and combo off, you can still draw it and counter most of the [card]Tendrils of Agony[/card] copies. The opponent can still win by paying for [card]Flusterstorm[/card], though that’s rare.
In the past, I’ve recommended targeting [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] as one of the more effective ways to fight Miracles, though if people shift to Levy’s quad-[card]Ponder[/card] list this strategy becomes less effective. Geist can catch an unprepared Miracles player with his pants down, though he’ll have a chance to bring [card]Terminus[/card] back in for game three.
In general, Miracles is a fair deck so long as you avoid decks that require a critical mass of creatures like Maverick or Elves.
Part III: Something New
My favorite part of Magic is new decks, which we haven’t had any of yet. Death and Taxes is a known entity, and Levy’s twist on Miracles, while awesome, doesn’t qualify as a brew. Fear not, Legacy Weapon fans, for GP Strasbourg did not disappoint!
UWR Geistill, by Andreas Peterson (14th)
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Flooded Strand
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Mishra’s Factory
3 Volcanic Island
4 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Fire Ice
4 Force of Will
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Spell Pierce
2 Pithing Needle
1 Red Elemental Blast
3 Relic of Progenitus
2 Surgical Extraction[/deck]
My brain exploded with wonder when I saw this list. This is no tweak on an existing archetype, wonderful and innovative as those can be, but rather the merging of several distinct concepts to create something new.
The threat base is reminiscent of the UWR Modern deck. The mixture of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], [card]Vendilion Clique[/card], and [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] contains the perfect amounts of disruption, utility, card advantage, and resiliency. That’s a ton of depth for only three creatures. I imagine a [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] on Geist puts away plenty of opponents who can only sit, watching, with removal and countermagic in hand.
But this deck is more than a Modern port, it includes elements of Legacy as well. Modern UWR lacks a draw engine that’s aggressively costed enough for the tempo-style win, which this deck fixes with [card]Standstill[/card]. Along with the spicy enchantment the deck gets an older, more mana efficient manland in the form of [card]Mishra’s Factory[/card]. I have seen [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] in Legacy before, which makes me think it could be a fine one-of in this deck, though it doesn’t trump an early creature from the opponent like a [card]Mishra’s Factory[/card].
Here, the color combination allows an impressive twelve 1-mana, instant speed disruption spells. [card]Standstill[/card] decks want the cheapest disruption in order to stop whatever threat the opponent is trying to play on turn one so that it can play [card]Standstill[/card] onto an empty board. When the opponent is forced to make a play, rather than die to manlands, the cheap disruption allows the Standstill player to again stop whatever the opponent was doing and play another [card]Standstill[/card], creating an unstoppable loop of card advantage.
[card]Lightning Bolt[/card] does work in this deck. It fits both the aggressive and controlling roles, depending on the matchup. Burn gets better when you draw a lot of it, which helps convert a few cracked [card]Standstill[/card]s into a win.
I especially like how the [card]Mishra’s Factory[/card] pairs with the rest of the threat base, which is a problem with traditional Landstill. In the Milwaukee Open, I played a grindy UB Landstill deck to a reasonable Top 32 finish. While I made a few mistakes, like not respecting Burn or my misplays against OmniTell on camera, I also noticed a problem with the deck. When I won, Jace and Factory killed the opponent at roughly the same time, making one of the win conditions less relevant. I’m reminded of killing with both infect and normal damage in Scars Limited. It’s often fine, if the cards are powerful enough, but you miss out on synergy.
Merfolk’s [card]Mutavault[/card]s are better than Landstill’s Factories for a few reasons, but the one I’m getting at is that Merfolk only wins through damage. Whenever a [card]Mutavault[/card] gets in there, the clock is shortened. When a Landstill player draws a manland, it may or may not be useful at all.
This UWR deck always wins through damage, and the manlands are strong threats.
Part IV: The Rest of the Metagame
While we’ve talked about some strange lists so far, there are a number of conclusions to make about the metagame in general.
Merfolk continues picking up pace, with Ben Lundquist following up his Invitational Top 8 with a finish at the Milwaukee Open. Alexey Romanchuk Top 8’d the GP with the deck. If this trend continues, combo should decline a bit and other [card]Aether Vial[/card] decks (like Goblins and D&T) will improve. Note that while [card]Engineered Plague[/card] is fine, actual removal or [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card] fare better against a pile of lords. [card]Pithing Needle[/card] crushes some Merfolk draws, especially since you can always name [card]Mutavault[/card] if Vial isn’t relevant. With the added popularity of [card]Sneak Attack[/card] and [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card], I would look to run two Needles in most boards.
Similar to Merfolk, BUG is another deck that can provide a cheap clock backed up with piles of disruption, which makes it another combo killer and also a good choice for the current field. The trick is deciding if you want a Loam or [card]Ancestral Vision[/card] list to out-grind the other BUG decks or a tempo deck like Team America and enjoy a better matchup against the unfair decks.
Jeff Hoogland is on a tear with Aggro Loam. This fits what Chris Vanmeter said about [card]Chalice of the Void[/card], singling it out as well positioned and one of Legacy’s underplayed cards. Similarly, I’ve found that recurring [card]Wasteland[/card]s (with Crucible or Loam) are better now than ever, as the tri-color decks like Jund, RUG, and BUG run few basics (if any).
Jeff’s dominance goes beyond his deck’s position in the metagame, however. More importantly, he straight up outplays his opponents. In Milwaukee, I watched numerous games where he came back from a losing position due to inaccuracies in his opponent’s play including everything from misboarding to misjudging what’s important to not bothering to read a card. Meanwhile, Jeff continued making accurate plays in complex situations, showing his familiarity with the deck.
Show and Tell continues to outperform the other Legacy combo decks, which could be why [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card] is gaining popularity. While you might be able to play a Sol land and win anyway, more often than not the Thalia deck can pressure your life total and mana base enough to keep you from cantripping and finding the pieces in time. On top of that, Death and Taxes can simply drop an [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] into play off of an opponent’s Show and Tell.
In particular, I would look to the following cards to hate out Show and Tell:
Gold: [card]Detention Sphere[/card], [card]Angel of Despair[/card]. Angel is the best card to put into play off of an opponent’s Show and Tell.
Blue: [card]Vendilion Clique[/card], [card]Venser, Shaper Savant[/card]. Clique is a great, maindeckable response to [card]Show and Tell[/card], as often the opponent will only have one sweet thing to put in. Venser can make things impossible for a Show opponent who has been building countermagic to fight through that critical turn. I found Venser particularly useful out of tempo decks that just need one more turn to finish the job. This is not the time to put a [card]Gilded Drake[/card] into play and look sadly at your opponent’s [card]Omniscience[/card].
White: [card]Oblivion Ring[/card], [card]Humility[/card]. While [card]Humility[/card] is better against Sneak and Show, in case they put in a Sneak Attack, [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] is a much stronger card against [card]Omniscience[/card]. Figure out which deck you’re weaker to and prepare accordingly.
Red: [card]Red Elemental Blast[/card], [card]Confusion in the Ranks[/card]. Confusion is a Mark Sun suggestion for the Goblins sideboard. While spicy, it’s probably worse than [card]Angel of Despair[/card].
Black: [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card], [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]. Watch out for [card]Misdirection[/card]. If you can get your Show opponent hellbent, Liliana will win the game.
Green: [card]Hornet Queen[/card] is decent against Sneak and Show but miserable against Omniscience. I’m glad there are other colors.
That’s all for now. Later this week I’m doing a Spoiler Spotlight on Varolz, the Scar-Striped, which has some exciting Legacy potential.