I went into Grand Prix Richmond believing that Legacy was a diverse and balanced format. The tournament results bore that out, with seven distinct archetypes appearing in the Top 8. But the story of the tournament was about the one archetype that did put two into the Top 8 and eventually took home the trophy.
Andrew Cuneo, 1st place at Grand Prix Richmond
That, and the card that allowed it to do so much winning.
Back to Basics appeared in two main deck copies in both Andrew Cuneo’s winning Miracles deck and Brad Bonin’s 3rd-place Miracles deck. Additionally, you’ll find two in the sideboard of Joe Lossett’s 6th-place Stoneblade deck and Owen Turtenwald’s 10th-place U/W Delver deck. What is it about this card? And what made the players who brought it so successful?
Mana is a driving force in Legacy, even more so than other formats. Players who are able to amass 3, 4, and more mana reap the rewards of powerful spells. Everyone else is trying to deprive them of that mana with Wastelands, Blood Moons, or a blisteringly fast combo kill. The value lands win games, and the mana fixing is effective and painless. Your relationship to mana determines the type of archetype you choose.
The Miracles deck gets the best side of a lot of these mana battles. It gets powerful, expensive spells like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It gets stable mana that’s immune to opposing Wastelands and Blood Moons. And—thanks to Back to Basics—it gets to obliterate most of the other mana bases in the format.
Back to Basics gives Miracles a near auto-win against decks like Lands and Eldrazi, which would otherwise be challenging matchups. Delver can’t beat it unless they’ve already established a resilient clock. It hurts most midrange decks badly enough to ensure that Miracles will always win a long game.
The icing on the cake is pairing Back to Basics with the incredible card selection of Legacy’s blue decks. When you play long games with Brainstorm, Ponder, Portent, and Preordain, you get to find Back to Basics any time it’s highly effective, and can often shuffle it away when the situation doesn’t call for it.
How to Combat Back to Basics
What you should not do is play a deck that folds to Back to Basics.
Around the time of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, I believed that Eldrazi Stompy was the best deck in Legacy. I no longer think it’s a good metagame call when all it takes for someone to have a favorable matchup is to play two Back to Basics. Since Eldrazi is entirely colorless, there really aren’t effective countermeasures.
Similarly, the Grixis Control deck I played at GP Richmond was excessively vulnerable to Back to Basics. Trying to play a long game against Miracles, while having a small number of basic lands, is a poor strategy. If your mana base is vulnerable, you should at least be playing something like Delver, where you can capitalize on an advantage in the early turns.
So what should you do?
One idea is to play a fast combo deck. If you compress the game to be centered around the early turns, you punish the strategy of Miracles in general, and avoid the card Back to Basics specifically. Sneak and Show would be a solid choice right now.
We might be at a point where maindecking a Pyroblast is not out of the question. It would have been highly effective against 6 of the Top 8 decks, and 13 of the Top 16 decks at GP Richmond. For a deck like Delver or Grixis Control, the difference between having zero answers and one answer is quite large. A sequence like, “pick up my Volcanic Island with Daze, replay it, Pyroblast your Back to Basics,” is one that can change the outcome of games.
With the banning of Deathrite Shaman, there are a lot fewer decks that can play with Abrupt Decay. That said, it’s one of the best cards against both Counterbalance and Chalice of the Void, and is a natural foil to the Death’s Shadow strategy. With the prevalence of fair decks, it might be possible for an old favorite like Shardless Sultai to make a comeback.
Finally, if you can’t beat ’em, you can always join ’em. Miracles seems to be a great deck. If you believe you can play it well and finish matches in time, then you can simply be a Back to Basics player yourself!
I’ll leave you with one last piece of wisdom. Play with Sylvan Library. It’s an absolute nightmare card for both Miracles and Grixis Control. It might not stop Back to Basics, but it can certainly dig you toward your answers and your basic lands!