When Khans of Tarkir spoilers began, Hooting Mandrills seemed interesting as a possible addition to the UG/x tempo decks. The card trampled over True-Name Nemesis and could likely tangle with Tarmogoyf if the right cards were delved away. It was even out of Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay range! Still, I should have known better. Return to Ravnica should definitely be considered an exception as it added two non-blue format staples to the Legacy metagame (Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay). Khans of Tarkir, not so much.
Meet your new overlords. Carsten Kotter first spotlighted the two cards in mid-September and believed that they were not getting the attention they deserved, even going as far as to say these two cards were much like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Underappreciated when first spoiled, Jace has become the go-to win condition/card advantage engine of every blue control deck. I see Treasure Cruise as a future staple for blue tempo and blue midrange decks. Dig Through Time is a bit trickier, as the card is better when you are trying to assemble a combo or find a specific answer. It’s also better in decks that fill up their graveyards more slowly, but have more mana available during their opponent’s turns. So, control and slower combo appear to be the natural homes for Dig Through Time.
Now on to some decks!
I tested Treasure Cruise in a variety of different shells, and I ended up settling on UR Delver:
I came across the deck while playing online one night, piloted by Ben Winokur. I took his list and made a few refinements, but by and large the idea for the deck was his, so kudos to him. My initial name for the deck was “Humans on a Boat on Fire,” but that wasn’t very catchy so I asked my friends for suggestions. Viking Funeral came up as a possible name, and that’s my vote for the deck name if it sticks around. What other deck makes a bunch of Humans, puts them on a boat cruise, and then lights them on fire and chucks them at the opponent?
I chose to play Viking Funeral after testing a variety of different decks because I thought it was the strongest week one Treasure Cruise deck. My record over the weekend was an impressive 13-1-2 (two IDs) between the Saturday Legacy Open Trial and Sunday Legacy Open. During my incredibly lucky run, I beat Erik Smith on DeathBlade, Alex Bertoncini on Infect, Mike Flores on Burn, Reid Duke on Miracles, and Dave Shiels on Shardless BUG. I consider every single player on that list to be a stronger player than myself, but I was able to squeeze through victorious because my deck had an absurdly high power level and was unexpected. A jumpstart on testing Treasure Cruise and having a strong sideboard plan didn’t hurt either.
According to one of my friends, this was how I attacked the Legacy metagame.
People were simply underprepared. Most people either didn’t play Treasure Cruise, or played a modest 1 or 2 copies. Stephen Mann, a BUG Delver player who made Top 8, mentioned to me that he wish he played the full playset as the card was unbelievable vs. the fair decks. Ancestral Recall is just that good.
People asked a lot of questions about Monastery Swiftspear (I call her Taylor Swiftspear), and she definitely did some work in this deck. When she’s on the battlefield each cantrip essentially deals 1 damage, and your Lightning Bolts can potentially do 4 damage. Treasure Cruise is also pivotal as it helps to fuel her back up. She was regularly a 3/4 and she even hit 5/6 once or twice. Thus, I think “red Tarmogoyf” is a more apt description than “the new Goblin Guide.” Nevertheless, Monastery Swiftspear causes some real deck design constraints. Your spells only do damage when you play them during your precombat main phase. In addition, she is much weaker when you aren’t cantripping. Therefore, I chose not to run Wasteland or any reactive blue spells that weren’t free. I even chose not to run Price of Progress because Young Pyromancer and Monastery Swiftspear want you to cast your spells early, whereas with Price of Progress you would prefer to wait. Luckily for me, most of my opponents still played around Wasteland and Price of Progress.
The rest of the deck is fairly straightforward. Against fair creature decks, you kill their early creatures and then overpower them with Treasure Cruise. Against unfair decks, you cantrip into your counterspells and then force them to go off by presenting a very fast clock. Unfair decks were definitely more difficult matchups, but I was able to beat Sneak and Show twice, Infect once, and Reanimator once. If the combo decks stumble, it’s not hard to just kill them on turn four. And sometimes, you can beat the Show and Tell-type decks even if they go off. Both Griselbrand and Emrakul were raced this weekend.
As for the sideboard, I avoided soft counters because of the anti-synergy with Swiftspear. Instead, I chose to play proactive cards like Pithing Needle, Grafdigger’s Cage, and Sulfuric Vortex. The CounterTop lock is fairly difficult to beat, so Pyroblast was the one counterspell I included in the sideboard to combat Miracles along with Show and Tell. My sideboard was insane all weekend as people didn’t expect so much permanent-based hate from UR Delver, and I managed to beat Sneak and Show and Miracles twice each. Going forward, I would recommend adding some Price of Progress to punish your opponents for expecting you to not have the card.
While Viking Funeral was a great choice for week one, things will get a lot tougher when more Delver decks start playing the full playset of Treasure Cruises. If opposing decks are able to keep your threats off the table, you are forced to spend your cantrips finding creatures and then playing catch-up with threats that are meant to be stuck on turn 2. Despite this downside, I’d be hard-pressed to find another Delver deck well-suited to producing so much damage output that you can race a Griselbrand.
The deck I almost played this weekend was Jeskai Delver. Here’s the list I was testing:
Out of the various Delver shells, I liked Jeskai and UR the most because they were the least vulnerable to graveyard hate. Extra Treasure Cruises can be Brainstormed or Forced away, so if your opponents brought in a card like Rest in Peace, you could effectively blank their card. Treasure Cruises in a deck full of answers tend to make the game go longer, and I really liked the inevitability of Batterskull as it was much easier to hit five mana if you resolved Ancestral Recall. Trimming Spell Pierces does make the combo matchup worse game one, and that is one of the major downsides to running a full playset of Treasure Cruises. Still, no creature deck wants to face this beast. The Elves vs. Jeskai match-up was not easy before, and it only gets harder when the Jeskai player can refuel so easily after firing off some quick removal spells.
I know, I know, I’ve been a longtime lover of Hymn to Tourach. But, I think Thoughtseize is much better in a Treasure Cruise world as you can usually ensure that you are the first person to resolve a Treasure Cruise. It may seem wrong to include Treasure Cruise in a deck that is reliant on the graveyard, but I usually have not had any issues just feeding off of my opponent’s graveyards. Furthermore, after resolving a single Treasure Cruise, it is easy to refill your own graveyard. Deathrite Shaman has somehow gotten even better because it can limit your opponent’s delving. Overall, I would say that the primary weakness of BUG Delver is that it lacks a way of “going over the top.” When both players have 5+ lands, just casting Tarmogoyfs and Abrupt Decays is not quite as powerful as being able to replay Batterskull over and over. Furthermore, hate cards like Rest in Peace become a lot more effective, so I think it may be necessary to board out some Treasure Cruises vs. decks with Rest in Peace. Still, the power level of these cards is very high and I would expect BUG Delver to continue to put up impressive results.
Now where does RUG end up in all this Treasure Cruise madness? I honestly think it will simply have to adapt to the new world order. Traditional RUG can theoretically still get there with some timely Stifles and Wastelands, but I didn’t drop a single game to it with Viking Funeral in testing. Without Treasure Cruise, RUG Delver is forced to go all-in on the early game and I just don’t think that’s a viable strategy going forward. Goodbye Nimble Mongoose, hello Ancestral Recall.
This version of RUG is quite close to UR Delver, but you have more sideboard options including Krosan Grip and Ancient Grudge. I have a personal hatred for cards like Spell Pierce and Stifle, but those are undeniably great against combo and can be considered in the RUG shell.
Delver isn’t the only home for Treasure Cruise though. I think it could be very strong in decks like EsperBlade and DeathBlade. I could also see a BUG midrange deck that eschews Delver and instead plays more powerful and resilient threats like True-Name Nemesis. In those decks, it’s possible that the correct number of Treasure Cruises is only 2 or 3 because they have higher card quality and less velocity.
Dig Through Time is also very powerful and much more suited to combo or control. Could it be the card that catapults OmniTell back into the ring as a top deck?
The downside to OmniTell was always that it was a three-card combo that played a do-nothing (Enter the Infinite). Logan Mize’s recent version focuses instead on an Emrakul kill off Omniscience, which should almost always get you there. Dig Through Time is excellent in this deck as it’s able to find you missing combo pieces and recoup through discard. Cunning Wish for Intuition will find your Emrakuls so a Dig Through Time off an Omniscience is quite unlikely to miss.
I also think Dig Through Time has a lot of potential in Miracles. Reid resolved a Dig Through Time against me and it was very scary sitting on the other side. I’m not sure what the correct number of Dig Through Time to play is, but it is definitely the most playable 8-drop that can counter opposing Treasure Cruises off of Counterbalance.
Cards to Play in the New World
These are just the obvious shells for the new Khans cards. I’m sure we will see more innovation for these decks going forward and it will be very interesting to see the format undergo a major shift. Despite all this madness, I don’t think Treasure Cruise/Dig Through Time are the newest Mental Missteps. Mental Misstep just cost some paltry life, whereas these two cards actually require some set up.
I see three major downsides to the two cards. First and foremost, these cards are rarely castable before turn four, so combo decks can simply go under them. I think this bodes well for decks like Sneak and Show and Storm, as now Delver decks will have a worse pre-sideboard matchup. Secondly, the cards do require a graveyard. Thus, cards like Deathrite Shaman, Rest in Peace, and Relic of Progenitus all get better and may even be maindeckable. None of these cards are an automatic answer though. Deathrite can be removed, Relic is useless when drawn too late, and Rest in Peace does nothing if you simply deploy your other non-graveyard-dependent threats and then shuffle or Force away your Treasure Cruises. A third downside is that these cards are all blue and require you to play more cantrips. Cards that are good against blue spells (Pyroblast) or cantrips (Thalia) all get better.
Gaddock Teeg doesn’t really fit in any powerful decks right now, though a Junk Depths shell might want him and be viable. Spirit of the Labyrinth was borderline playable before, and now it becomes a must-answer against decks that have 12+ draw effects. While Spirit is fragile, Death and Taxes does play Mother of Runes and can run up to four Spirits so that the odds of one sticking around aren’t bad. Similarly, Notion Thief’s stock also goes up, and I’m living for the day when Dack Fayden + Notion Thief becomes a thing in Legacy. Who knows? Although Legacy has been somewhat stale since Return to Ravnica, it’s great to have such a huge shake-up now. Good luck to everybody out there innovating!