For many players, the biggest appeal of getting into Legacy is the speed at which you can win the game. I’m talking The Fast and the Furious stuff here. Full throttle. And the fastest deck in Legacy is definitely Belcher. This deck is capable of winning on turn 1 and does so against no interaction with real consistency.
The key to the deck is Goblin Charbelcher. This 4-mana artifact will almost always win the game after a single activation. That means your game plan needs to be centered around getting to 4 mana to cast this and then 3 more mana to activate it. You rarely actually need to win in one turn as there is almost no way in the format to kill a Charbelcher once it’s in play. From that point, it’s just about getting to 3 mana again to fire the thing off. Now, Charbelcher was not designed as a card that was supposed to kill people with one shot—it will stop as soon as you hit a land. This creates some interesting deck-building restrictions.
A single Taiga represents the entire mana base of almost every Charbelcher deck. If you hit the Taiga off the activation, the odds are strongly in your favor that you will have gone through enough cards that it will be lethal. If they weren’t, well, there’s always next turn, right?
Belcher is mainly a simple addition deck—almost every card in the deck will add 1 additional mana to your mana pool.
Elvish Spirit Guide and Simian Spirit Guide do exactly that and essentially nothing more. They are 0-mana ways to add a mana to your mana pool. This is a great way to get the chain started, but keep in mind that these cards will not actually add to the Storm count—you are exiling them, not casting them.
Lotus Petal and Chrome Mox are free ways to add a mana, add to your Storm count, and can also sit on the battlefield for a future turn if needed. Chrome Mox requires an extra card to imprint if you’re going to use it for mana, but that will also help activate your Charbelcher the following turn if you can’t go off immediately. Chrome Mox can also boost your Storm count even without imprinting.
Rite of Flame is the strongest Ritual effect in the deck thanks to how well it scales. The cheap cost of only a single red to get started is key, and the fact that the second copy will add an additional mana is a bonus.
Tinder Wall, Pyretic Ritual, and Desperate Ritual are even more ways to add 1 to your mana pool, but they came at a cost. You can’t start going off with a handful of Rituals and no way to actually cast them, so they are weaker than the 0-mana cards. Seething Song requires even more mana to get going, but you’re trying to get to 7 anyways, so the +2 mana boost from a Seething Song is a welcome addition. The really great thing about Desperate Ritual is that you can splice one onto another at 4 mana. This alone can ramp you all the way to 7 for casting Charbelcher and using it in a single turn.
The other way to ramp from 4 to 7? That would be Lion’s Eye Diamond. Once you’ve resolved your Charbelcher, you have no need for any of the cards in your hand anyway. Lion’s Eye functions as a Black Lotus for an activation and can speed up your clock considerably. It can also be sacrificed in response to the next card on the list when setting up another kill.
Burning Wish is the way for Charbelcher to add consistency. It will be slower, no doubt, to get Empty the Warrens, but almost no deck in Legacy can deal with a ton of Goblin tokens or race them. A huge Empty on turn 1 is a win against the majority of the field. You could end up on the wrong side of a Terminus, which would be unfortunate, but rare. Some of the other fast decks in the format, such as Storm, rely on Ad Nauseam to win the game, and the damage from the first swing of Goblins is usually enough to stop that entirely. Enough Goblins can even stop Griselbrand from drawing cards, or stop Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn from finishing the game off. With 3 Empty the Warrens in the deck, and 4 additional Burning Wishes to go find an Empty or other key card, these effects add consistency and power to a deck without interaction or ways to draw many extra cards.
The rest of the deck is dedicated to cards that will replace themselves at no cost. Gitaxian Probe is awesome in most combo decks as a “free” way to see what your opponent is working with. Knowing when to go for your combo is not easy—though, in Charbelcher, you often will have to go for it immediately anyway. If you Probe and see a Force of Will, casting 4 Rituals to try to resolve a Charbelcher may not make any sense, but you can also set your opponent up to make mistakes. What if they allow the first Ritual to resolve—do they counter the second? Third? Will they have a chance to counter if your hand is all Spirit Guides? And what if you’re setting up an Empty the Warrens and not a Charbelcher at all? It’s actually very tough to decide what to Force of Will against Ritual decks thanks to the power of the Storm mechanic, and Gitaxian Probe can make sure you’re the one working with perfect information.
Now, more often than not, you’ll see a hand with no interaction and you’ll kill them on turns 1 or 2, but it can be more fun to have the challenge of beating tougher cards!
Manamorphose is the other “free” card in that it replaces itself in mana and in a card. This is a pretty nice boon to the Storm count, but doesn’t serve much function beyond that. One of the weakest cards in the deck, it’s nice because it cycles for free.
ZIPPERS, 5-0 in an MTGO Legacy League
One of the truly interesting things about the Belcher deck is just how “Legacy” it is. Look at the above list. Now, compare that to a well performing list at a Legacy open that took place more than 6 years ago!
Cedric Phillips, 11th at a Legacy Open on 3/14/2010
It’s functionally identical! There is no real reason to play a Bayou and 4 Dark Rituals anymore. The cost of an additional land in your deck is severe, since the odds of killing your opponent in a single Charbelcher shot are going to be significantly lower (and that’s without factoring in that the land isn’t a Mountain, so if you do hit Bayou, you will need to reveal twice as many cards). With the addition of Pyretic Ritual, and Gitaxian Probe making it easy to draw another +1 mana effect, you no longer need the best Ritual in the format.
As far as the sideboard is concerned, I start with a basic Burning Wish package.
The key card to Wish for is Empty the Warrens. If the Belcher deck can get to 6 mana with a Burning Wish in hand, that will likely mean at least 10 Goblin tokens (remember that both the Wish and the Empty itself will count toward Storm, so only 3 additional spells are needed. It would be hard to get to 6 mana without at least 3 spells anyway). This will likely represent a 2-turn clock, even through blockers.
Past in Flames is another great Wish target if you are using the red Rituals to get your mana boost. The combination with Rite of Flames and Seething Songs is pretty awesome for resolving a big Past in Flames. This can also be used if an opponent was able to Duress or Thoughtseize away an Empty the Warrens earlier in the game.
Goblin War Strike is a way to win the game quickly. With a bunch of Goblins in play, Striking your opponent for a bunch of damage at the cost of a single mana should end the game on the spot. This can also be another 7-mana “win the game” option if your hand has Empty the Warrens instead of Goblin Charbelcher. You can even cast the Burning Wish first to get the War Strike, resolve your Empty for as many Goblins as possible, and then deal them their 10-20 damage with a ton of Goblins available to attack next turn as needed.
If you’re able to get to enough Storm that a single Empty would kill your opponent, you may have the option instead to search up Tendrils of Agony. If you have a Manamorphose to create some black, some Lotus Petals, or you’re going to be sacrificing a Lion’s Eye Diamond in response to your Burning Wish, Tendrils can end the game right away. Many decks will take a bunch of incidental damage from fetchlands or Phyrexian mana, so you’re often not even going to need to Storm for more than 8.
There are a number of problematic enchantments for the Belcher deck, even if you can line up a potential turn-1 kill on the play. Leyline of Sanctity is the #1 offender, ensuring you can’t Belcher them even before they’re able to play their first land drop. Reverent Silence can completely change that, especially since it’s free to cast if you’ve found your Taiga. If you haven’t found your Forest? Well, things get a lot trickier and you’re probably going the Empty the Warrens route.
That covers most of the common cards played for the Wish package. It’s interesting to see these sideboards with a handful of cards that you are never going to actually sideboard in. Once they are in your deck, say if you wanted the fourth Empty the Warrens, then your Burning Wishes will no longer have access to them. This turns off a key win condition. If Reverent Silence is going to be really good in the matchup you’re playing, there’s so much more value in having 4 Burning Wishes that can go find them than having the single copy in your deck.
The rest of the sideboard is anti-blue. The #1 predator to an all-in combo deck such as this one is Force of Will. A single Force of Will can make you waste 4-7 cards. There are ways to play around it, ways to set your opponent up to counter the wrong thing or not counter the right thing, but Force of Will is always going to be tough. Not knowing when to counter the Ritual, and having access to Storm cards main deck, opens up your game plan, but a counter can ruin your day.
Xantid Swarm shuts this down and you can expect Belcher decks to run 4. It’s extremely challenging for any deck that trying to fight this combo to have access to much removal after sideboard. Swords to Plowshares, for example, may be the best removal spell ever printed, and yet it is stone dead if Belcher doesn’t draw and cast a Xantid Swarm. Even though the Belcher deck technically has 12 creatures main, it’s a creatureless deck. Tinder Wall is the only creature that should ever get cast and it is going to be sacrificed for mana immediately. Spells that can sweep the board, or deal 1 damage to all creatures (something like Electrickery), are actually outstanding as they can sweep up all of the Goblin tokens and still kill a Xantid Swarm.
Your opponents will look to board out their targeted removal against dedicated combo, but Xantid Swarm puts a serious constraint on what they’re able to do. With a single attack, the Belcher player is free to deploy their Rituals and kill spell without fear.
The only other really relevant sideboard cards are the Pyroblasts and Red Elemental Blasts. It’s not uncommon for the Belcher deck to have more mana at its disposal than it needs, as almost every card in the deck produces mana. Not only can these cards disrupt an opponent’s game plan, such as an early Show and Tell (assuming you didn’t have Charbelcher in hand and enough instant mana to be able to kill them with it on the spot…), but they can force through your action. They add to the storm counter, and since many blue decks can’t actually deal with a horde of angry Goblins, forcing through a key Seething Song may be all that matters.
The Belcher deck is extremely welcoming to new players of the Legacy format. You rarely care what your opponent is trying to do and you’re probably going to correctly “go for it” as early as possible in every matchup. If your opponent has a Force of Will and you are all-in on a Goblin Charbelcher on turn 1, this can feel bad as you lose the game, but the odds of them having the turn-1 Force with a blue card just aren’t high enough to not to go for it, and their odds of drawing into more interaction (or having interaction once they have more mana available) go up.
Sideboarding is easy. There are matchups where it may be correct to shave a card or two here and there, but you’re almost never sideboarding. Half of your sideboard is Wish targets, and while there are decks that I would sideboard Wishes out of because they are too slow, in this deck they represent so many of your win conditions that it would be hard to do that. Cards like Manamorphose and Pyretic Ritual are the weakest Rituals, while Chrome Mox can be too slow when you need to win quickly as you won’t have the card quantity to imprint. You’re looking to board in the anti-blue cards versus blue decks!
Charbelcher is the fastest deck in Legacy (and also in Vintage, if that’s your thing!), so I would highly recommend you give it a try. Any other awesome Wish targets that people have been missing over the years or cool tech you have for Belcher? Sound off in the comments!