[card]Mental Misstep[/card] has been the driving force behind a lot of debate and even some controversy as of late. The talk about it changing Legacy as we know started almost immediately upon it being spoiled but has since come under some scrutiny. Some people have talked about how the card is over-hyped and will not have the impact it is projected to have while others have claimed the exact opposite, saying it will be more format warping than [card]Brainstorm[/card] or [card]Force of Will[/card]. Both sides have valid points but that is not why we are here today. I will weigh in on my thoughts on the card just to give another perspective on it, but we are here for a different reason.
Before we get into that though, here are my quick thoughts on Mental Misstep in Legacy. I am certainly in the camp that believes it will change Legacy in a significant way, but I do not think this has to be through its massive use or adaptation. In face, the mere existence of a card like Mental Misstep changes the way people need to go about approaching the format, which is what we will be talking about later. The comparisons to Force of Will are loose at best because it is very difficult to build around Force of Will. Your deck can certainly have a plan against it, but rarely does that include going about building your deck in such a unique way to sidestep it altogether. Mental Misstep is able to be built around, or build through, but both of these techniques are critical enough that decks are going to be built with Mental Misstep in mind.
The card is good; I don’t think anyone is arguing that, but does it warrant consideration in each and every archetype? This to me seems like an obvious no. As the card is tested initially, it will be pretty popular, especially around Grand Prix Providence, but once people begin to understand just what it needs to be used for and when it is unnecessary, it will taper off. A solid card of course, but not as blatant as some think it to be. That all said, as I mentioned, I think play of the card will be at an all-time high in the first few weeks of its legality. This means you need to be on top of just how to go about playing against it, playing with it, and building in such a way that goes over the top of the card. Plenty of other people will touch on those first few topics, and we will certainly weave them in an out here, but lets talk specifically about building decks with Mental Misstep in mind.
For this discussion, you can put aside all of the strategy talk behind whether or not to play Mental Misstep as we don’t care about what specific spells it can counter. It does not matter if a player wants to hit [card]Aether Vial[/card]s or [card]Brainstorm[/card]s, the bottom line is that Mental Misstep counters things that cost 1. Now, it is true that some players will play more tightly with their Missteps, allowing some one-drops that they view as second rate to go through, but just as many people will play [card]Mental Misstep[/card] like [card]Spell Snare[/card] used to be played, and that is firing it off at the first possible moment. We will go off on this tangent later, but for now, the only assumption we are making is that a ton of people will be packing Mental Missteps.
Once you have conceded that point, you now need to look at your deck and figure out what direction you want to go with it. It is not going to be a wise move to just ignore Mental Misstep during the first few weeks at least. Many decks are created that can ignore an archetype from time to time, like a [card]Vengevine[/card] deck may want to just act like Valakut does not exist simply because its other match ups are so good that it can just take the 1 loss against Valakut that it might run into. Mental Misstep is different because it has no limitations. The card can literally be in every single deck in the room, so just chalking your deck up to having a bad Mental Misstep match up is not wise. Instead, we need to craft our deck to battle the card properly. There are two recommended routes to go then, as well as a riskier third option for those brave souls out there.
This strategy is fairly literal; No one drops at all. That is to say you essentially look to avoid Mental Misstep altogether by having no targets for it. Period. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. It is not very realistic to just take an existing archetype that does have one-drops and simply cut them. Even if there were replacements that had the same functionality, you are still messing up the curve and general strategy of the deck. For example, here is AJ Sacher’s recent winning list:
[deck]1 Basilisk Collar
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Senseis Divining Top
1 Phyrexian Dreadnought
4 Grim Lavamancer
3 Trinket Mage
4 Fire Ice
4 Force of Will
3 Spell Snare
2 Vendilion Clique
3 Jace the Mind Sculptor
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Tropical Island
4 Volcanic Island
1 Academy Ruins
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Pithing Needle
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Tormods Crypt
1 Mind Harness
1 Threads of Disloyalty
Now, obviously things are going to change post New Phyrexia, but as a thinking exercise, here are the 1-drops in the deck:
[deck]1 Basilisk Collar
1 Senseis Divining Top
1 Phyrexian Dreadnought
4 Grim Lavamancer
3 Spell Snare
That is a total of 18 cards. Not so easy to just take all of those out and rebuild from scratch. Sure, you can find some replacements; [card]Trickbind[/card] for [card]Stifle[/card], Jitte for [card]Basilisk Collar[/card], maybe [card]Impulse[/card] for [card]Brainstorm[/card], but each of those cards are a huge downgrade from the original. This isn’t even taking into account how horrible [card]Trinket Mage[/card] becomes now, with only 1 legitimate target. I don’t expect people to just be removing all of their 1-drops from a deck like this at all. Instead, there are two directions to take the “nothing” route. The first is to find a deck that caters to the no, or few, 1-drops route. These include decks like MUD or even Junk which does not care so much if you counter their [card]Thoughtseize[/card] as they are still getting 1 for 1 value and Shocking you most of the time. The other direction is to build from the ground up and intentionally avoid all 1-drops.
Obviously, I do not have an example in this case, as by definition, it involves you building from the ground up on your own, but the concept makes sense. By eliminating all 1 drops, you are able to sidestep the battle altogether. Compare this to running say, just 4 one-drops. If you have exactly 4 [card]Brainstorm[/card]s in your deck as your only 1 drop, and your opponent has 4 Mental Missteps in his deck, then assuming no deck manipulation was had, he will draw just as many Mental Missteps as you do Brainstorms. This means, that if your opponent values Mental Misstep enough, he could theoretically counter every copy with a mental Misstep. Obviously these are rough estimations, as drawing first versus playing first changes things, as does fetching out a land etc etc, but roughly, they will draw the same number of their 4 of as you do yours. Clearly this is not a desired result.
This logic applies even if your only 1-drop ends up being Mental Misstep itself. It is not valuable to have a card that counters other people’s Mental Missteps if they have no targets of yours outside of your own Mental Misstep. This means that for every Brainstorm you attempt to counter of theirs, they will have one of their own Missteps ready to go.
If on the other hand, you move to 8 one-drops, you encounter a similar problem, although at half of the frequency if you talk only about Mental Misstep. For example, your one-drops need to be important enough to be worth countering from a Mental Misstep, but they cannot be so important that they are worth countering by every spell, like [card]Force of Will[/card], otherwise the likelihood of them resolving remains roughly the same. If you are talking about [card]Goblin Lackey[/card] and [card]Aether Vial[/card] for example, those are just as likely to be countered by Force of Will as Mental Misstep, so no progress has been made. Brainstorm on the other hand, is a card that may slip past Force, but usually will be countered by a Misstep. 8 solid one-drops then begins to get you out of harms way, but you are still going to have somewhat vital one-drops countered at inopportune times, so I don’t think you are out of the woods yet.
It is by this line of thought then that the term “All” refers to 12 or more one-drops. If you can hit that threshold, you begin to overload the opponent’s Mental Missteps, forcing them to pick and choose which one-drops to counter. Just because you are packing a lot of additional targets for Mental Misstep does not mean you need not be cautious still.
Let’s assume you have 16 one-drops. 8 are mediocre value cards, like [card]Ponder[/card] or [card]Preordain[/card]. 4 are high value cards, like [card]Brainstorm[/card], and 4 are engine cards, like [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] or [card]Aether Vial[/card]. It is still going to be crucial here to order your spells properly as to minimize the damage done to your most powerful one-drops. If you just run out a Top as your first 1 of the game, there is still a very good chance that it gets countered and then it does not matter that you diluted your deck with additional ones. Now your Ponders will resolve, but their main role was baiting the Misstep to protect your Tops or Vials anyway. The math changes a bit here when you consider that 4 of your one-drops could also be Mental Misstep, which you would use primarily to battle opposing ones. This allows you to more readily go for one of your own ones knowing that a Misstep of your own is waiting to protect it.
The most ideal situation regarding a excess of one-drops as a method for beating Mental Misstep is to have all of your ones at equal power level. This can ultimately confuse the opponent into not knowing which spell is the most important to be countered. If your deck has [card]Grindstone[/card]s, [card]Goblin Welder[/card]s, [card]Blue Elemental Blast[/card]s, and Tops as its 16 one-drops, protection from [card]Mental Misstep[/card] occurs almost naturally. Each of those cards poses a threat to Mental Misstep in some way and can force their cards to work harder than is possible. Now we have figured out a plan that allows us to run our one-drops but also protect them in the best possible manner which is contrary to the method where only our Tops or Vials really mattered.
Of course, it is important to remember not to weaken your deck with alternative ones just to have protection against Mental Misstep. If your plan to protect your Tops or Vials does involve throwing in Ponder and Preordain into a deck that otherwise would not touch them, you are probably doing more harm than good. Do not let the direction of your deck waver just to fight a war that you could be avoiding altogether.
While I feel that the All or Nothing approaches are probably going to be your best chance at battling Mental Misstep, there is one other method that looks to be a little trickier. Consider the fact that some decks run only Brainstorm as a one drop and do so specifically to help find card X or a combination of cards. Brainstorm, as mentioned before, is a card that is easy for Mental Misstep players to pull the trigger on because even if Brainstorm is not your best one casting cost spell, it is still going to be amongst them. Unless your opponent knows for certain that you are playing crucial 1-drops, like [card]High Tide[/card], in the dark, [card]Brainstorm[/card] is a fine spell to use a Misstep on. This is compounded in those situations in which the opponent has 2 Missteps in hand. In this situation, they will almost always counter your Brainstorm in the dark.
If Brainstorm hovers on that threshold for Mental Misstep worthy then, can we theoretically use that to our advantage? Lets assume that we absolutely need those 4 slots as 1 drop deck manipulation spells to help us find card X. We could theoretically upgrade the Brainstorm to a more impactful spell like Sensei’s Divining top under the notion that if it does resolve, it has a bigger impact on the game than Brainstorm, but we then run into the problem of it being an even juicier target for Mental Misstep to nab. What if instead we downgraded our Brainstorms, but only slightly?
In this scenario, we are looking to replace Brainstorm with a card like Ponder or Preordain as our only 4 slots that cost 1. The idea behind this is that in game 1 scenarios, the opponent is more likely to let a Ponder or Preordain resolve despite them having Misstep in hand. Again, some players are just going to counter every 1 they see, so the other two methods are better against them, but for those players who are looking to get maximum value, their trigger might not be hit by what appears to be such a low value card like Preordain. Remember that Brainstorm is almost always going to be an acceptable target for Misstep, so the very fact that you are playing Preordain or Ponder would lead most players into believing that you also run Brainstorm. Without any further knowledge of your deck then, they may just go ahead and let your sorcery speed cantrips resolve, waiting on a bigger target. In their mind, even if you don’t have any Tops or [card]Enlightened Tutor[/card]s hanging out in your deck (and there is a good chance you do) they at least can wait for your Brainstorm to come out of hiding.
Granted, this method is certainly risky, considering that if an opponent does catch on, likely during game 2 or 3, the jig is up. But even then, your Brainstorms that you were going to originally run would have been no different in that respect. While I expect this to be the least used method of sidestepping Mental Misstep, it is certainly the most clever.
Some players have already come to grips with the first two methods mentioned today and have decided to choose one of those paths for something like GP Providence, but not everyone has. I would suggest looking to one of the methods mentioned if your deck is especially weak to Misstep and if you cannot do any of the above, like a Goblins deck, you should probably consider a new deck, at least in the short-term. Thanks for reading!