Recurring Nightmares – Surviving the Drought

Today I’m attempting to ride the tide of the quarterly wave that hits the Magic writing scene. Every three months, a new set is released and we analysts and authors quietly go through a process that is generally similar to:

Step 1: Read spoilers as the set becomes leaked. Comment on these spoilers, and the possible effects they may have on “insert format here.”

Step 2: Attend Prerelease. Discuss the Limited format and how you can succeed. Talk about how you either failed or blew 12 year olds out of the water.

Step 3: Set review!

Step 4: Build some decks using the new cards. There hasn’t been enough time to really test them, so it’s ok if they suck. No one will hold it against you.

Step 5: Actually play the decks, and tell the world why they weren’t as good as you hyped them to be in Step 4.

Step 6: The set goes live on Magic Online. Time to post draft videos.

Step 7: Events are happening at a greater frequency. The metagame is developing. Talk about the last event and the next piece of technology.

Step 8: See Step 1.

This is the basic cycle. No one really talks about it, but everyone pretty much follows it. Now, by no means am I knocking this cycle, because it’s both necessary and extremely useful in keeping the world up-to-date on how each set develops into a metagame, and how decks are utilizing the cards that are the latest and greatest. However, as much as this cycle has a lot to offer the guys writing about Standard and Limited, it’s a nightmare (no pun intended) to try and fit yourself into this schedule as a Legacy-oriented author.

Realistically, the number of events that are of relevance to the Legacy metagame in any major way is so limited in that you tend to get stuck on Step 4. I’d love to say that we can review some results from the past weekend, and use those results to get some idea of how the Scars Cards (Scards?) have changed Legacy, but there simply weren’t any major events last weekend. Most people were at release events trying to pick up as many of the hot singles from the release as possible, trying to win some packs, or both. Of course, this drought on events only lasts the weekend, and the events start firing again and we shoot on to Step 5 with a vengeance. In the meantime, we’re left with some time to discuss things as they were a week ago, which is pretty much exactly where they will be next weekend, since development in Eternal formats tend to be a bit on the sluggish side.

I’m in a place right now where I’m basically unhappy with all of my options as a [card]Counterbalance[/card] player. The deck is in the top tier of Legacy based on power level alone, and I feel like a dog to half the decks in the room at any given point in an event. It’s painful. Your natural prey, the combo decks and the tempo-based control decks, are simply being eaten alive, and what’s worse is that the decks that are doing it aren’t good for you either. Merfolk is a winnable matchup, but it’s not something you want to see. The Survival deck attacks you from so many different directions it’s hard to maintain a good amount of control without them spilling out and stumbling into lethal damage. Goblins continue to be a pain in the neck, and half the time just draws more cards than you and rips apart your manabase. Whatever happened to the days where you could run four colors in Legacy without fear? When casting Humility was a reliable plan, and as long as you fetched a basic Plains, you could hit it against creature decks on turn 4 no problem? Now, you’re looking at top 8’s comprised of 6 decks threatening Daze, along with Spell Pierce and Force of Will. Five of them play Wasteland. It’s becoming real difficult to rely on spells to contain these creatures, and we’re being forced into a position where the only real move is to change strategies.

What else is There

I’m begging you to prove me wrong. Please.

So what’s the play? If you’re the type of mage that has no emotional attachment to an archetype, color, or strategy, then more power to you. It’s your time to shine. If you’re the guy who picked up the merfolk deck to get a taste of Legacy without a big investment, you’re living the dream right now. Me? I’m looking for applicants.

Last week, I mentioned a deck that I considered a possible direction for the Survival archetype to take. It uses a toolbox approach to try and get the most out of Necrotic Ooze, as well as having the “right answer at the right time.” Traditionally, this is something that the Survival deck has had to work very hard at staying away from. because these decks tend to look pretty silly when the opponent opens with a turn 1 Pithing Needle and you didn’t open the 1-of Harmonic Sliver. In addition, once you do draw that Survival, the next three tend to be pretty much garbage. So, the most successful Survival decks tended to be more streamlined and focused, utilizing a minimum of toolbox-type men and played about as well without Survival as any other midrange deck, but turned into machines when the namesake came online. Here’s an example of a real oldie that saw some success in Legacy about a year ago, piloted at GP Chicago by Kevin Kehoe:


This deck, which was known as RGbSA (Red/Green/black Survival Advantage) worked on the basic premise that Goyf was going to be better than whatever creature your opponent played, and that if you won the Goyf war, you won the game. Its package of creatures was an attempt to facilitate this, with guys like Big Game Hunter and Shriekmaw being used as actual removal, and Genesis providing you with a way to circumvent the opponent’s. While there were some metagame considerations in Kevin’s build, it hits the major shell. Note that Kevin also ran a Burning Wish secondary strategy to provide him with strong game 1 answers to problematic situations.

Unfortunately, the time has come and gone for this deck. The metagame has developed past the strategy of attacking with Goyf and hoping for the best. New sets have made their influence known, and strategies must be updated to make them viable again. Along with that, old strategies can be visited to be mined for new ideas. This is where I think we’ll find the jewels for tomorrow’s Survival Advantage.

The following list (dredged up from the depths of Google search on the mtgSalvation article archive) from Finn’s article on the Survival archetype gives some idea of the extreme end of the toolbox approach:

This deck has some obvious issues, but it was a long time ago in a much less explored metagame and…

Well, let’s be honest. The list is probably crap, but it gets the point across. The basic idea of the Full English Breakfast deck was to get a Volrath’s Shapeshifter in play, turn it into a Phage, and kill. In concept, it was the first Survival deck that wanted to run out a dude and then combo kill with it. It had a hell of a time actually doing that, since even then it was smack in the middle of a much more efficient format and was highly erratic in its draws. Still, mining the list for theory purposes is valuable, and it’s worth considering the fact that combo and Survival are not diametrically opposed. This can be verified when you consider the inclusion of the Loyal Retainers + Iona/Emrakul combo in more modern builds.

Considering my former statement that the streamlined Survival midrange decks were more successful than the piles like FEB, I really shouldn’t be considering the toolbox approach. All of the tournament results have shown that the less cute you get with the creature pool, the more success the deck will have. And yet, I still think the time is nigh for a return to the FEB approach. The reason really boils down to a single card.

Fauna Shaman

Fauna Shaman 

It’s a whole new ballgame with this chick in the card pool. The fact is, the inclusion of Fauna Shaman completely negates the reliance on Survival that the old decks had. You’re no longer limited by needing access to a four-of, without which you’d be a pile with no direction. You have 8 Survivals, and they are not redundant with each other. If you draw a Shaman with Survival online, you get a fresh creature. If you draw a Survival with a Shaman online, you attack for 2. If you draw a Shaman with a Shaman online, you either pitch it, or work out more activations per turn. If you draw a Survival with a Survival online, well, you’re no worse off than you were before Shaman.

This is all known information. Patrick Chapin hooked up the 8 Survival plan months ago. What he didn’t hook up, on the other hand, is the 10-12 Survival plan, aka Necrotic Ooze.

The Ooze is the last piece of the puzzle, in my eyes. It’s the piece that allows you to maintain the flow of cards past the point where the deck could go before. You become more reliant on the graveyard, but in exchange, no non-exiling removal spell can shut your engine down. In addition, you gain another avenue to victory through combo, which is available for an extremely low cost – a mere two slots in the deck, as opposed to the seventeen or whatever that the FEB deck required. This leaves an abundance of room to flesh the rest of the deck out with a more aggressive plan than the previous incarnations of the combo-esque versions had.

The list I put up last week was rough, but I’ve refined it a bit to the following

This list combines the concept of the streamlined Survival Midrange with the combo toolbox concept to create a list that doesn’t depend on the strategy of Survival -> combo-win, but has access to it, and can win with it outside the attack step. One consideration I am still on the fence about is the choice between Wall of Roots and Devoted Druid. While the wall has the distinct advantage of being an excellent blocker, and occasionally happens to be the exact man you want for the job, the Devoted Druid can replace the Mogg Fanatic in the combo string and allow you to win with Necrotic Ooze copying itself with Kiki-Jiki, and untapping with Druid, allowing each copy to replicate and still attack as a 3/2. The mana ability of each is similar, although the Druid’s is redundant to Birds of Paradise, while the Wall allows the Ooze to generate an additional mana three times. It’s a tough call, but my instincts say the blocking ability of the Wall as an actual creature, and not as fodder for combo, will make it win out in the end.

Along with the Ooze, this Survival deck has the ability to simulate the Madness deck, and throw a bunch of Vengevines in the yard and tutor up a couple Rootwallas to bring them home. Fortunately, you only ever need two Rootwallas to trigger the Vengevines, so you don’t need to worry about 1/1’s showing up to the party when they’re not invited. The Mongrel is there to facilitate the Rootwallas if need be, and he happens to have a relatively useful ability when Oozed.

If all else fails, cast Tarmogoyf.

While most Survival decks are extremely difficult to pilot to perfection, I get the impression that this deck nears impossibility. Since most of the time your decision trees involve the entirety of the deck, I can’t imagine playing through 6+ rounds of Swiss without making at least a few wrong decisions. I intend to push this deck as hard as I can, but the learning curve of Survival is incredibly steep, and it takes real dedication to the archetype to learn how to properly chain the activations in varied game states.

Feel free to leave comments on the deck, as well as any card choices you find debatable. I’d also be interested to hear others chime in on the debate between Devoted Druid and Wall of Roots. They seem fairly equal in my eyes, so perhaps more perspective can help decide.

Before closing for this week, I’d like to mention that I’ll be heading to Binghamton NY this weekend for a Legacy event at Jupiter Games. Jupiter has been holding events for the last two years, but the proprietor has a much longer history with this format and the game in general. It’s run by Eli Kassis – you may recognize his name from SCG Baltimore top 8, although he also spent some time on the pro tour – who has been running Legacy events in upstate New York since before Legacy was Legacy. When he opened his store in 2008, most of the players in the area, and many across other parts of the East Coast immediately dedicated themselves to bettering his business. He and his staff have made constant strides to keep their tournaments at the highest level, with amazing prizes, and constantly improving the way the events are run – whether it means more impressive feature match coverage, more play area, or something as simple as buying pizza for the players. Jupiter’s events are well run, and a great enjoyment to participate in, win lose or draw. If you’re anywhere within driving distance, do yourself a favor and stop in to an event – you won’t be disappointed. He’s offering up a Lotus to first, and Moxen, duals, Forces, Mana Drains, etc to the top 8. More information on this event can be found on the Jupiter Games website or in the tournament announcement thread on The Source .*

I’m expecting to give the Ooze deck a shot this weekend, so expect a full discussion on how it (and I) performed next week. Until then, best of luck at your first few events featuring “Scards,” and remember – keep your stick on the ice.


Nightmare on The Source
AdamNightmare on MTGO, Blogger, Twitter, Facebook
Mr. Nightmare everywhere else

* Before dismissing this paragraph as a simple plug, consider that as players, we expect a lot from the stores and venues we play in. When a store or a TO is a disappointment, we hop on the Internet and bash them to pieces – although all too often we continue to play there due to lack of options. What we don’t do, on the other hand, is praise those TOs and stores that go out of their way to make the gaming experience pleasant for those spending hours and hours, as well as dollars and dollars, in their store. I think this is a shame, and the more people who bring attention to these excellent stores, the better off the community of Magic players will be. There are awesome stores being run by people who really care, and they deserve to be recognized. As a writer, I have the ability to do so, and would consider it shameful to waste that opportunity.


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