Roughly once a month the importance of an upcoming tournament forces me away from my beloved Legacy and into a different format. Sometimes it’s extended for the PTQ season, but usually it’s the format of cash tournaments and of National Qualifiers. I speak of standard, which leads me to Lead the Stampede. Such potential. Such cascade-like variance. Much has been written about this card, but not quite enough.

When building with a new card, the most common place to start is by comparing it to existing, similar cards and seeing how it matches up. If a functionally related card was broken once, it can give big clues as to how to go about doing it again. Lead the Stampede reminds me of two cards: Goblin Ringleader and Treasure Hunt. While Ringleader reveals and Stampede doesn’t, their functionality is otherwise identical. Treasure Hunt is much more recent, but also features a sort of conditional cascade effect, and Chapin has done a lot of good work relating theory to the practical aspects of building with the card. I think examining how both cards have been used is a great starting point for brewing.

Looking at how Goblin Ringleader has been used is pretty easy, since Goblins have been a Legacy staple for as long as I can remember. Take this list for mono red:

Yeah, I know. There’s a legacy list in the middle of my standard article. Love it or hate it, this column is still Legacy Weapon.

The main Ringleader-specific cards we see in the above deck are the fetchlands. A once-popular mathematical fallacy claimed that fetches thinned the deck of lands, letting a player draw his key spells more frequently. It turns out that the probability of drawing a spell as opposed to a land with a few fetches in the yard is practically the same as without, while the few points of damage here and there were changing games. While a few fetches aren’t enough in terms of drawing threats vs. lands, it is relevant in terms of Goblin Ringleader which, if cast often enough, will gradually draw a ton more cards over the course of a tournament thanks to those few lands not being in the deck. Despite the recent success of burn in legacy, I still like fetchlands in mono red Goblins for that very reason, especially since Fireblast-based Zoo is on the decline.

Since the math on Ringleader has already been done to death, and the point of this article is how to build with existing knowledge, not how to figure out new things, I’m going to skip some steps and use preexisting math. This is an example taken from Chris Coppala. Both decks have twenty two land, four Vials, and thirty four Goblins. The math is for a draw involving five Goblins, an Aether Vial, and four lands. The first deck plays four mountains, while the second cracks four fetchlands. The percentages are for how many Goblins a resolved Ringleader nets.

0 goblins – 2.60% – 1.71%
1 goblin – 16.75% – 13.27%
2 goblins – 37.02% – 34.83%
3 goblins – 33.32% – 36.87%
4 goblins – 10.31% – 13.32%

Average – 2.32 – 2.47 (+0.15)

While the average number of Goblins revealed isn’t that different, the percentages are distributed higher on the curve. The non-thinned Ringleader makes bank, or three to four Goblins, 44% of the time while the thinned Ringleader gets there 50% of the time. The difference might not matter in one game, or even a match, but over the course of the day it’s going to result in a significant number of cards drawn, or not drawn, which can swing games more than the loss of a few life.

Clearly, with Lead the Stampede, the difference is going to be even greater since we’re seeing five cards instead of four. Whatever deck this card fits into, it should run the maximum amount of thinning it can support.

The second lesson we can learn from Goblins is that, even though the deck has gradually eliminated every other spell (such as maindeck Lightning Bolt or Swords to Plowshares that older lists featured) to make its Ringleaders more efficient, it still includes four Aether Vial. After all, there’s little point to drawing all those extra Goblins if they only languish in our hand. When building around Lead the Stampede, the deck we put it in should be able to vomit out the creatures it’s drawing, or the card isn’t worth the effort. This suggests Lotus Cobra as a mana engine, since an Overgrown Battlement deck would be better served by Green Sun’s Zenith, which can specifically tutor for extra Battlements. Lotus Cobra has the added benefit of synergizing with all the fetchlands that we want to run for thinning anyway.

The other card we should compare Lead the Stampede to is Treasure Hunt. When Chapin wrote about his Treasure Hunt control deck, he mentioned that the card is best when the lands it’s flipping are doing spell or threat-like things, as in the case of Halimar Depths, Tectonic Edge, and Celestial Colonnade. When applied to creatures, we have to change the criteria a bit, since they’re all threats. Also, getting mana producers from a three casting cost sorcery is less than useful, especially since we want to run as few lands (or “bricks”) as possible, necessitating a low curve. Thus, what we’re looking for are creatures that disrupt.

Here’s a brief list I drummed up while brewing and testing a RG aggro list with Craig Wescoe.

 

Which, after a bit of tuning, led me to the following build:

Earlier versions of the deck ran Nest Invader as another cheap threat that synergized with Goblin Bushwacker, but the more streamlined the deck became, the less room there was for it.

Lead the Stampede has a few neat interactions in this deck. Fauna Shaman can turn redundant creatures, like extra mana dorks, into gas. Bushwacker does a good job of turning mana into threats, and piles of creatures are fantastic for recurring Vengevines. Like Squadron Hawks, Lead the Stampede can allow you to overfill your hand, binning extra Vengevines. Unlike the Hawks, Lead can also find you extra Vengevines to bin so the card, while swingy, is often more powerful than the two mana 1/1 flyer.

A neat trick is to cast Goblin Bushwacker as the second creature to recur Vengevine. Since the Vengevine trigger resolves before the kicked goblin enters play it, as well as the first creature, will get the Bushwacker boost.

The sackland count looks strange at first, since there are six fetches and only four basics, but the deck never needs a fifth Mountain. Here, the fetches interact favorably with both Lotus Cobra and Lead the Stampede, and the loss of life is almost always a non-issue.

The deck is a brew, a recent one, and has not been hyper-tuned by the masses like Valakut or Caw Blade has. However, its power level is fine, and it is somewhat competitive. I’m more than happy to bring a deck like this to an FNM or online eight man tournament and tear apart some less experienced Caw Blade players. There are still things I dislike about the deck, however. Sometimes it draws just the right mixture of mana and gas, and can win through all the disruption in the world. Other times it floods, or draws too many little guys, and can’t finish the opponent off. Mulliganing is also difficult, and the mentality of keeping any mixture of lands and spells will be punished more often than not.

On a deck level, the Spikeshot Elder, while having some neat interactions with Battlecry and Goblin Bushwacker, is probably too cute. The non-synergy between Goblin Guide and Birds of Paradise is also less than thrilling. In fact, there are games where I question the Guide’s presence in the deck, especially since there is little reach to capitalize on the early burst of damage, but the fact that he’s another undercosted, hasty threat keeps him in.

There is the option of going into Naya colors for Squadron Hawk, which gives further redundancy in binning and recurring Vengevines, as well as giving a blocker for opposing Hawks and another chaff creature to fuel Fauna Shaman. However, the card does a few things I don’t like, such as further screwing with the manabase, thinning the deck of creatures for Lead the Stampede, and being generally overcosted tempo-wise. I prefer Lead the Stampede because, rather than for sure getting a pile of dorks, there is the chance to hit gas, too.

Stampeding Elves

No, this isn’t a Matt Nass article. I, Caleb “friends don’t let friends play elves” Durward, played an elf deck in a tournament. While everyone was having fun in Dallas, I was sharking a Jace tournament here in Chicago with the following list:

I had to wade through eleven rounds of Caw Blade, Valakut, RUG, Vampires, and UB control before splitting the finals with Bob Havlovic (or Have-a-lick, as Rashad refers to him.) Many of the Chicago ringers were in attendance, including a few 5k champions, and towards the end of the tournament most of my opponents had played on multiple pro tours. While I have not ran the deck for very long, the Caw Blade matchup seems favorable, depending on the die roll and how many Day of Judgments they’re packing, RUG has been more favored (though a misplay can send things the other way quickly,) and Valakut has been a bad matchup, but actually skill intensive and interesting, which was a breath of fresh air. Knowing what to hit with Acidic Slime, as well as what to tutor for with Fauna Shaman, can get very complicated, and often only one line in hundreds is winning.

Some quick sideboarding notes: Against most decks with burn, bringing in at least three Leylines is correct, and I’ve even stolen games against Valakut with the card. The Nissa package out of the board, an idea I got from Channel Fireball’s resident elf master Matt Nass, is generally for aggro, and the third Ezuri and Eldrazi Monuments come in against sweepers or the mirror. A general board plan for the deck involves cutting two of Acidic Slimes (on the draw,) Vengevines, and Joraga Warcallers.

While Elves is the most obvious shell for Lead the Stampede, the list itself is very non-intuitive, and it took me a couple of tries to get right. Lead the Stampede, while a fantastic way to refuel, wasn’t necessary in multiples, and after testing I found two to be the right number.

Note the presence of the thinning factors: Eight fetchlands and three Sylvan Rangers are particularly effective in a deck with only nineteen lands. Some lists go down to seventeen lands, but the old tweaking adage of “taking the stock list, and adding two lands” rings true here, especially since we need to cast Acidic Slime on turn three consistently. As is, the deck will typically cast Lead the Stampede on turn three or four, after untapping with enough mana for both the green sorcery and the creatures it finds. Assuming there’s ten to fourteen lands left in the deck, and factoring the Eldrazi Monument and other Lead as blanks, we average more than three cards per Lead, but less than four.

As with the RG deck, this list also has Fauna Shaman to turn chaff into gas or set up a Vengevine chain. The difference comes up in the mana base, as this deck is able to vomit its hand onto the table much more consistently. Another advantage to elves is the presence of four Acidic Slimes maindeck. Here, the Lead the Stampedes can help find multiple Slimes, keeping the opponent off of a crucial Day of Judgment or Titan while increasing the chances of mana screwing them. This means that quantity often equals quality in this deck, since elf lords also get better in multiples.

As for the rest of the deck, I started with four Ezuri, but only really wanted it against Day of Judgment, and the deck has other outs to Day, such as spewing out a pile of Vengevines. Joraga Warcaller, while not particularly exciting without an Elvish Archdruid to fuel it, can still be cast for one to recur Vengevines, and thus the card fits our game plan better than Ezuri.

So why should you play this deck over Caw Blade? The same reason you should play any tier three deck over the most powerful, consistent deck in the format. It’s fun. I was sick of playing the same matchups over and over, ramming hawks into other hawks, and now I’m winning games by casting Acidic Slimes and Vengevines. At last year’s Nationals Qualifier, I rocked Time Sieve in a field full of Jund and mono red, barely missing the cut on breakers. With this build of Elves, I know I’ll have to win some key die rolls, since Joraga Treespeaker, Fauna Shaman, and Acidic Slime all increase in power on the play, but at least I won’t have to face the mirror all day.

Other Formats

Is Lead the Stampede playable in other formats? Certainly, but it has more competition.

In Extended it has high potential, especially since Naya runs almost all creatures anyway. I think I would love to cascade into this card off of Bloodbraid Elf. After all, anything that finds more Bloodbraids is a good thing.

For now, Legacy’s tribal decks have the Ringleader cycle that are better suited because they come with 2/2 bodies attached, and most other creature decks still need spells to disrupt the opponent. I do think it would be awesome to cast Lead the Stampede and net a pile of Street Wraiths

Some quick notes on Legacy:

A few top eights being filled with combo decks does not mean that the format is becoming overwhelmed by the archetype. I’ve had numerous people come up to me with a question that began with “because there’s so much combo right now…” which is a bit of an exaggeration. What is true is that we’re in a combo friendly environment, with little Countertop seeing play and many of combo’s best matchups, like aggro, still being popular. As long as this trend continues, and competent people choose to play combo, the archetype will do well, but over-preparing for the top eight may ensure that you never get there.

Mani Davoudi, a modo ringer that I helped qualify for the Pro Tour, has been rocking my Painter list to back-to-back GPT wins. He has only made one change, and that’s to replace the Nihil Spellbomb with a Pyrite Spellbomb, which he said has been useful in clearing out Tidehollow Scullers, Qasali Pridemages, and Phyrexian Revokers. Since the card is tutorable via Trinket Mage, recurrable via Goblin Welder, and turns on Mox Opal and so forth, it seems better than other removal options, and it’s a reasonable card to keep in mind if hate bears are popular.

Get your Painting on while you can, because the newly spoiled Surgical Extraction is the most versatile, effective hate for Painter that I’ve seen so far, and it’s playable in every color and free to cast, unlike Extirpate which could at least be played around somewhat. Casting Intuition against any deck game two will have more risk but, as I’ve been telling people, Painter has never been a deck for the faint of heart. It’s a deck I’m still considering for GP Providence, especially since there’s a chance I’ll face High Tide on day two.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, I will try to respond in the forums, or you can reach me at CalebDurward@hotmail.com.

-Caleb Durward