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Recurring Nightmares – A Slow Ascent

As a writer, I consider the comments section of my column to be one of the greatest pieces of inspiration available, and one of the most alluring traps in existence. Much the same as anyone who writes for this site or any site where commenting on the topic is allowed, I’m very much aware of what is being said in response to the things I’ve submitted. Whether I respond to these comments or not, I do read each and every single line that you’re writing. On the other hand, I’ve also concluded that generally more harm comes from me responding in the comments than good, so if you have a subject you’re really interested in my opinion on, please feel free to email me, or to find me on Facebook or Twitter, and I’d be happy to continue discussion there.

To further reinforce that I am in fact reading the things you’re writing, I’d like to address one comment in particular from last week’s article. A comment left by “stan” suggested that my overall tone in the last few weeks has been decidedly negative, and he feels that this is the work of an unhappy man.

He’s not really wrong, but he’s not entirely correct, either.

When I’m working on an article, I’m rarely listening to music, because I find lyrics distracting to the process of putting words down on paper. If I am listening to music, it’s generally some kind of instrumental work, or at the very least something with minimal vocals. On the other hand, I never seem to be able to get one song’s lyrics out of my head. The song is called “A Slow Decent,” and it’s by a band called Straylight Run.

I’m tired.
Cynical and broken, but wiser.
Heavy with a sense of resentment,
but I used to be so much different,
I used to have so much faith
when I started.
You knew that I always meant it.
I knew I could make a difference,
I struggled to be heard
and then finally, one day people started listening.
and I knew it
but as soon as it began it was ruined.
A slow descent from unique to routine,
over and over,
“just do it again and this time with feeling”.
The spotlight.
The focus on the friends and the feelings.
That made those stupid songs all worth singing.
And don’t you say a word
unless you’re pretty sure that you want it analyzed.

Although the singer writes this lyric as a response to his own struggles with losing his art while he gains notoriety, it can apply to nearly any pursuit of artistic enterprises, including a column about Magic: the Gathering.

Stan is correct. I’ve been losing focus on the things that separate me from the rest of the pack, and in doing so I’ve lost some of what makes me take pleasure in my writing. This is a big part of what’s coming through as discontent in my work. I’m on a cold streak in terms of play, both because I’ve been losing more than not and because I have been playing less Magic in general, as other pursuits have been taking up more of my time. The two are likely related. At the same time, I’ve begun to forget that last and most important stanza of the song above – don’t say anything unless you’re sure you want it analyzed. It’s easy to forget that with a platform as large as the one provided by Channel Fireball, there comes a LOT of people scrutinizing the work you’re putting out each week, and much like every other aspect of this game, we’re pretty good at nitpicking the little details. What may have been a small part of a bigger picture in real life could be poorly expressed in a written recounting, and taken as a much bigger deal than it was – or visa versa – but it’s on me to assure that you’ll all read what I intend; if you don’t, it’s a failing on my part, not yours.

Stan is also incorrect. Outside of the scope of this column, and the game of Magic in general, I’m quite happy. I also recognize that very few of you are interested in the non-Magic aspects of a writers’ life, so I won’t get into those things here, but don’t worry, Stan. I’m doing quite well. If I can figure out where I left all the fun I used to have playing Magic, I think I’ll be in a real good spot. Pardon the melodrama. It’s not nearly that bad.

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Canadian Threshold is the best deck in the format right now.

That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the best deck forever, or even until something drastic changes in the way Legacy games play out. It simply means that over the course of the past few events, it’s been consistent and strong against the field, and players are behind the curve in finding a way to deal with the deck before the small and efficient creatures (combined with an adequate amount of disruption) kill them.

The funny thing is, of all the decks that we could possibly be concerned about losing to, this one should be the least scary of all.

One of the greatest things about Legacy is the fact that no deck ever truly dies. No matter how hostile the environment may be for a particular deck, the fact that no cards ever rotate, combined with the relatively steady overall power level of the format, means that eventually there could be a slight shift in the metagame that could create a niche where a dead deck becomes viable once more. Because of this, we can constantly look to the past to gain insight into how to deal with the present.

Canadian Threshold has been around before. It’s even been somewhat dominant before. The changes to the deck are centered around the addition of the cards from Innistrad that give the deck extra speed and resiliency – [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. If we can determine what we utilized in previous iterations of Legacy to combat the deck, and then adapt those weapons to better handle the more recent iterations, we should be able to find a way to let the format do most of the work of metagaming for us.

Let’s begin this discussion by determining the goals of Canadian (or any tempo-based) Threshold.

• Combine [card]Stifle[/card] and [card]Wasteland[/card] in a manner that will stunt the mana development of an opponent, allowing [card]Daze[/card] to be a hard counter, even into the late game.
• Play under cost, high efficiency threats to close games before an opponent can recover from your disruption.
• Use [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Brainstorm[/card] to artificially lower the mana count in your deck, letting you run a higher threat density.
• Removal that doubles as reach, for situations where the game gets stalled and you need to “go for the dome.”
• Utilize [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] as a way to get additional value out of your spells, especially your cheap removal/burn.

Each of these are fairly simple to deal with in a vacuum, but in order to handle them all together, we’ll need to find a way to make our solutions overlap.

The first and most daunting task is dealing with the mana denial plan. By running a combination of [card]Stifle[/card] and [card]Wasteland[/card], Canadian Thresh attacks at the heart of what draws many of us to Legacy in the first place – the ease and perfection of mana in Legacy. Where in Standard, running a three color manabase is something you do with a grimace on your face, in Legacy you can nearly guarantee you’ll have all the right mana at the right time, assuming your opponent doesn’t get in your way. Even decks like TES, that run extremely small numbers of lands – and five colors – have less trouble hitting RBWUU in a turn than a Standard Solar Flare deck has in hitting 2WW on turn 4. [card]Stifle[/card] is an instant speed [card]Sinkhole[/card], because Legacy players can’t help but love the interaction between Fetchlands, Duals, and to some extent [card]Brainstorm[/card]. Because these lands and spells are so ubiquitous, [card]Stifle[/card] is nearly never dead. [card]Wasteland[/card], as a natural analogue to [card]Stifle[/card], comes in behind and clears up the leftovers when the opponent is forced to play non-fetch lands in order to play around [card]Stifle[/card].

Of course, as mentioned in another bullet point above, Canadian Thresh has the difficult task of fitting these [card]Wasteland[/card]s into its own manabase, which is artificially reduced in size by the addition of [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Brainstorm[/card]. This means that although they’ll be trying to utilize their own Wastes and Stifles, they’re going to be vulnerable to this type of disruption, as well.

The major solution to this issue is a simple one – play more lands. Specifically, play more basic lands. One of the best ways we had to deal with Canadian Thresh in the past was to simply lead off with Basic Land, go. Followed up on turn 2 with Basic Land, go. Suddenly, they’re on the back foot, as nearly half of their disruption suite was neutralized by the simple task of playing with a “less robust” manabase.

Additionally, playing your own [card]Wasteland[/card]s, often in conjunction with either [card]Life From the Loam[/card] or [card]Crucible of Worlds[/card], can be devastating for Canadian Thresh – although this is less the case these days, with the threats being more blue than green, and low in cost. By the time you’ve gotten your Wasteland recursion online, you’ll need to find a way to deal with the threats that they’ve likely already dropped.

To address the next point (low cost, high power threats), there is another simple solution. Run more removal. Canadian Thresh runs 8 real threats. [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] hardly qualifies, although if given the opportunity, it can represent a significant amount of damage via flashback on [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] into attacks. However, the deck is designed to beat decks which are running somewhere between 4 and 6 maindeck removal spells. They aren’t threat dense enough to deal with decks that can go 1-for-1 with each of their threats in turn, and remove them before they’re able to close the gap. This is one of the reasons we’re beginning to see a trend of 4 maindeck Swords to Plowshares, with a sideboard which adds up to 4 [card]Path to Exile[/card]. While the shift from [card]Nimble Mongoose[/card] to [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] is one that increases the speed of the deck, it also represents an exposure to removal that was not previously present in the deck. Mongoose was exceptional against control decks that were running high numbers of removal, as those decks tended to stall in the face of a creature with Shroud. This is no longer an issue, as every creature present can now be [card]Terror[/card]ed.

Note that in the case of any deck running both Green and Black (and therefore running [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]), [card]Darkblast[/card] is potentially your strongest possible weapon against the threat base of Canadian Thresh. It deals with two thirds of the creatures in the deck outright, and can combine with a blocking Goyf to deal with the final third. This is an underutilized weapon in the fight against the Innistrad wrecking crew.

The third bullet above is what I consider to be the most exploitable weakness of the deck. When playing decks of this vein (which I have been doing for a very, very long time), the single most threatening thing that you can do to me is disrupt my ability to play one drops. I can’t tell you how many times I saw an opponent open with [card]Mox Diamond[/card], Land, [card]Chalice of the Void[/card] at one, and just slumped my shoulders as I realized that this was going to go nowhere, and fast. At the best, I’d have to [card]Force of Will[/card] the Chalice. At the worst, I’d look at anywhere from 4 to 6 dead cards in my hand, and another 30 sitting in my deck. The only way this could go worse was a turn 1 Top followed up by a turn 2 [card]Counterbalance[/card] – and losing the counter war. Now I knew that unless they screwed something up, I was pretty much dead on the spot. When your deck is comprised of so many “high efficiency” spells, it means that you’re primed as a perfect target for those decks that are happy to shut down the 1 mana spot on the curve.

This time around, Canadian Thresh has gone all-in on the [card]Spell Snare[/card] plan. It really took [card]Mental Misstep[/card] being around for the Legacy playing community at large to recognize just how absolutely absurd Spell Snare really is. Even in the heyday of [card]Counterbalance[/card], it was still mostly a sideboard card, and people just couldn’t commit to playing more than maybe two in the maindeck – two at most, and it was still a rarity. Nowadays, people have realized that it counters so many significant issues for blue decks, and are packing more and more, making Chalice on one and Counterbalance all the more difficult to resolve. However, if you do manage to get one on the board, it’s going to be just as potent as it’s ever been.

The above is an excellent way to shut down the first half of bullet three. The second half is an even more frustrating angle to attack from – [card]Blood Moon[/card]. As Michael Keller and Damon Whitby can attest to, I’ve lost more games to a turn 1 [card]Blood Moon[/card] than nearly any other single card on turn one, possibly more than all other turn 1 plays combined. There’s a place in hell reserved for players who get off on turning duals and fetches into mountains, and if you live the dream and hit one into play against Canadian Thresh early on, or have the ability to clean up the board afterward, it’s as close to a hard lock as we can get. If you’re more of a green guy than a red guy, [card]Choke[/card] does nearly the same thing, although it allows them a single use of each of their lands, and gives them the ability to save up for an answer. The same is true for [card]Back to Basics[/card], but all three of these enchantments are crippling for Canadian Thresh if you can establish them before they present a clock, or deal with the clock present when you play them. Don’t forget that [card]Daze[/card] is potentially an out to this type of lock.

The fourth bullet is basically the “oh crap” button for Thresh. Once they get you down to somewhere in the range of 8-10 life, it’s time to be concerned. Often they’ll be sitting on one or two cards in hand, and if you aren’t playing a bunch of blockers, you’re likely to be getting domed with some [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s. Combined with the addition of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] where Fire Ice used to be, Thresh now has a significant source of reach, making cards like [card]Ghostly Prison[/card] and [card]Moat[/card] much less useful than they once were. There’s a surprisingly large amount of Burn available in the deck, so a little life gain here and there isn’t the worst thing you could have.

In fact, this deck is one of the reasons I was so drawn to the combo of [card]Thopter Foundry[/card] and [card]Sword of the Meek[/card] for so long. No, I’m not suggesting that the time is ripe for that combo once more, but it is a great reason to be running cards like [card]Batterskull[/card] or [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card] in your deck. Have I mentioned that Jitte owns the entire threat base of Thresh if you strap it to a Goyf? Having this incidental life gain is infinitely more useful than playing dedicated lifegain spells like [card]Nourish[/card] – but hopefully I don’t need to tell you why lifegain spells are bad.

The final point is centered around the shift that the metagame has taken of late, and points to something greater that’s in need of discussion. The graveyard is no longer safe. Because of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], who is really nothing more than the straw that broke the camel’s back, grave hate should be something that is unquestionably added to your sideboard – and probably in greater numbers than you’re currently running. I said before that Legacy has become a [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] format – and while I still believe this to be the case, I also don’t believe its necessary to run the card in decks that can’t actually play it – we’re not so fast that we’ll need to have it on turn 0 every game, but even having it on turn 4 can be a valid play in certain matchups. I think if you’re running less than 4 cards in your sideboard that deal with graveyard shenanigans, you’re underprepared. We’re nearly to the point where maindeck options are even justifiable.

Interestingly enough, this makes playing Dredge a miserable option in the modern Legacy metagame – possibly for the first time since the banning of [card]Flash[/card].

Putting all of these plans together, as I said, is something that’s rather difficult to do. Really, that’s the true heart of the matter – it’s much easier to put this all down on paper than it is to form a cohesive 75 that can adequately combat the Threshold strategy on all fronts. Here’s where I began:

[deck]4 Force of Will
4 Brainstorm
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Spell Snare
1 Counterspell
2 Path to Exile
3 Vendilion Clique
3 Jace, The Mind Sculptor
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Batterskull
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Life from the Loam
3 Tundra
1 Tropical Island
1 Savannah
4 Wasteland
2 Mishra’s Factory
1 Riptide Laboratory
4 Flooded Strand
1 Windswept Heath
1 Misty Rainforest
4 Island
2 Plains
Sideboard:
2 Path to Exile
4 Purify the Grave
1 Sylvan Library
1 Nature’s Claim
2 Krosan Grip
3 Spell Pierce
2 Back to Basics[/deck]

This list is more of a “what are you running right now” rather than a “how do we beat Canadian Thresh,” but it’s a first pass, so testing is required. If you’re looking to dominate a Thresh filled metagame, I think a deck based on Gerard Fabiano’s Team Italia is an interesting and strong place to begin:

[deck]1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Dark Confidant
4 Figure of Destiny
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Hymn to Tourach
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Thoughtseize
4 Vindicate
3 Arid Mesa
4 Badlands
2 Bloodstained Mire
4 Marsh Flats
1 Plains
1 Plateau
4 Scrubland
4 Wasteland
Sideboard:
2 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Ethersworn Canonist
3 Burrenton Forge-Tender
4 Pyroblast
3 Blood Moon[/deck]

Another take would be a new revamped version of Esper Counterbalance, something such as this:

[deck]4 Force of Will
4 Counterbalance
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Brainstorm
3 Spell Snare
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Dismember
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Bitterblossom
4 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Batterskull
4 Tundra
4 Underground Sea
1 Scrubland
4 Island
1 Plains
1 Swamp
1 Karakas
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
Sideboard
4 Leyline of the Void
3 Spell Pierce
3 Path to Exile
1 Darkblast
3 Thoughtseize
1 Wrath of God[/deck]

A part of me really wants to see if there’s a way to combine [card]Bitterblossom[/card] and [card]Mentor of the Meek[/card] to make a pretty sweet draw engine for Legacy purposes. I think each of the cards are pretty fragile on their own, but I’ve certainly lost games to [card]Bitterblossom[/card] and won games with [card mentor of the meek]Mentor[/card], so who can say? I’ll see if I can wring something out of it in the coming months.

Adam
@AdamNightmare

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