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Recurring Nightmares – Scar Tissue

Why hello there. Long time no see. There was a bit of confusion in communication between the editors and me, which has hopefully now been corrected, and we can continue to our regularly scheduled programming. While there have been some relevant tournaments over the last month to discuss, everything tends to be up in the air upon the release of a new set, so let’s focus on that instead.

Rather than regale you all with a card-by-card review of Scars of Mirrodin, I’m going to give you a qualitative approach that discusses the effects of cards from the set on the Legacy format. We’ll ignore 95% of the set, since it will have no impact on the format at all. This will allow us to delve a bit deeper into the individual cards that will have an impact, and see what they can really offer Legacy. Before we focus on any individual cards, I feel it’s pertinent to address the enormous purple elephant in the room.

Affinity

The deck most readily affected by the incoming artifact block is obviously the one comprised of 75% artifacts – Affinity. This powerhouse of Mirrodin standard has seen a fair amount of screen time in Legacy, but it hasn’t ever really broken through as a deck to be afraid of. Perhaps we can expect some changes to the list that can push it over the top, so let’s take a look. Using the lists from Chicago, we can start from Matt Johnston’s 55th place deck, which is a fairly generic pre-Scars build.

We’ll ignore his sideboard for the time being, since it’s generally tuned for an expected metagame, but we may be able to improve upon a few things from his build due to the new card pool.

The first card we’re interested in adding is the much-discussed Mox Opal. This potentially broken piece of jewelry has a better chance of being “turned on” in this deck than in any other in the game. With the simple opening of land, Mox, Thopter, you’re online and able to start dumping your hand even faster than you used to. The existence of the card means you don’t need to lean on Springleaf Drum as much, since you maintain the same number of 5c accelerants with Opals, and you can reduce the number of drums – although due to the legendary status of Opal, you probably don’t want to cut them all. This helps you increase the speed of damage, since you can use your creatures to attack rather than to tap them for mana.

The second obvious addition, although this one is still debated by some players, is the new Ornithopter Memnite. This guy is not as obviously a better Arcbound Worker as it seems at first glance, since the modular mechanic means he gives 2 counters to Ravager when eaten, and he keeps his power around after he dies. However, the fact that it drops a turn faster than Worker (crazy!) means that you aren’t limited on how many you can play early, where you may find yourself holding Workers in the same situation.

Galvanic Blast has the potential to be a one mana Fireblast, but no one was playing Lightning Bolt in the deck before, and there’s no reason to think the one extra damage would change that.

Two Spicy New four Drops

Two non-artifact creatures are giving me extreme pause before ruling them out completely. First, Ezuri’s Brigade is a GIANT monster when played in this deck. It will always be an 8/8 trample for four – but whether that is good enough or not is to be seen. (As an aside, it’s crazy to me that an 8/8 trample with no drawback is only a “maybe” at 4 mana.) The other creature that may show its face is Indomitable Archangel. I see this as a real threat in the deck, similar to how Kira, Great Glass Spinner works in Merfolk. The angel is not quite on the same level as Kira since it doesn’t protect itself, but it is still a must-answer when your opponent sees it hit the table. The fact that it’s arguably a worse ability than Leonin Abunas is offset by the 4/4 flying body, and the evasion is extremely relevant when you consider that it’s the only creature you’ll be able to mount a Cranial Plating to once it lands. The rest of the metalcraft creatures are relatively lame in comparison to those two, and especially when compared to Myr Enforcer. Sure, the metalcraft Grizzly Bears seems fine as a 4/4, but you’re paying 2 for it where Enforcer costs 0. It’s hard to compete with such a broken mechanic as Affinity for artifacts.

Taking into consideration all the above changes, I see this as being the build to start from:

I’d like to find a way to add a few other test cards into the build. I’d like to see the Tree of Tales turn into Ancient Dens to facilitate the Archangel. This could reduce your ability to play Krosan Grip from the board, but you still keep 5 Green sources, so for a 1-of you’re probably ok to still run it. If you’re running “Plains,” then it’s worth at the very least considering Tempered Steel. While Legacy is not particularly welcoming to Crusade effects, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that 24 cards in the deck are artifact creatures. Beyond the maindeck, a few other cards seem hot. Ratchet Bomb gives you a reliable and variable way to deal with problem permanents that is not color-dependent. Whether this is necessary, or if it’s better than Powder Keg is yet to be determined.

Infiltration Lens scares me. It’s either going to be useless and never see the light of day in any deck, (in this one or any other), or it’s going to be a sideboard staple (potentially even seeing maindeck play) that lights the Affinity deck up when playing against aggro opponents. In those situations, the equipment is another take on Skullclamp. Affinity is by far more aggressive than any other aggro deck (although the Goblin deck has haste, it can’t empty its hand faster than this one, ever). Giving a repeatable source of card advantage to Affinity is a major problem. It seems like plowing your modular guys into blockers over and over lets you either win the damage race or win the card advantage war. I’d be happy to open hands like

 

 

Where the seventh card is irrelevant. Hell, I’d even take that as a mulligan to six. When your turn one consists of throwing down three power of guys, along with three mana sources and a draw engine, you’re in good shape. If the last card in hand is [card]Arcbound Ravager[/card], well, your opponent is soon going to have some tough decisions to make.

While not a Scars card, I’m also interested to see if the presence of another 0 drop (bringing the overall number of free creatures in the deck to 16) and a usable Mox will make Steel Overseer viable in the shell. While he may be a turn too slow for the deck, the fact that he’s now reasonable to expect on turn 1 may allow him to start charging up the team as soon as the first attack step. If this is the case, you really want at least a pair of him on hand. He probably won’t do much on his own, but he has the potential to allow the rest of the team to get out of control in a hurry.

Affinity is a deck that has always been on the verge of insanity. It’s been known to show up in occasional top 8s, and plenty of top 16s. There are metagames where the deck is simply unbeatable, and the fact that 90% of the deck is brown means there is limitless customization available. While only a few cards from Scars are really shoo-ins for the maindeck, there are plenty of cards that can work into the shell, and lots of directions to take your experimentation. With two more artifact sets to come, it’s only going to get more insane. This block is very likely to give the deck the boost it needs to make it to tier one.

Next up is a maybe card in a deck that doesn’t need it – we’re talking Grand Architect in Merfolk, people. Let’s consider the big picture. What can Merfolk do with 40 colorless mana? I suppose it can make some Eldrazi guys, but is that actually better than attacking for 20? Assume that it’s turn 5. You have all five lands in play, because you haven’t used Wasteland for some reason. You don’t want to attack with Mutavaults for some reason. You’ve opened the nuts and went Aether Vial into Cursecatcher plus Silvergil Adept into Merrow Reejerey plus Adept into two Lord of Atlantis. This turn, your plan is to vial in Architect, and cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Really? That’s where you’re at? Consider the power on the table right now. If you just attack (and have not attacked up to this point), you’re swinging for 26 islandwalk. Do you need Emrakul? In order for this plan to come together, you’re asking for a lot of things to work out, and a lot of Merfolk’s natural strengths to be ignored. If you really consider the reason you’re playing this “lord,” you’d be better off running out another [card]Merfolk Sovereign[/card] in its place. Merfolk is not the deck that really wants Grand Architect.

However…

As a few people have asserted earlier in spoiler talks, Grand Architect has the neat ability of playing extremely well in Painter Grindstone decks. It pumps Painter’s Servant out of Lightning Bolt range as a static ability – meaning Zoo will need either need Path to Exile or two removal spells to break up the combo. It pumps Trinket Mage enough to actually trade with relevant guys. It also allows you to play and activate the Grindstone on the same turn with mana generated from the Architect and Painter. These seem like reasonable considerations in the deck. Here’s an off-the-cuff list to start with:

The Masticore is there mostly because I haven’t played him in forever, and it’s pretty great with the Architect. You could tweak this list to add really any other color if you want – they all have merits, or to add Stifle/Wasteland if that’s your thing.

Next up is a neat little one card combo that has potential to win you the game if all of your chips fall into place. There’s been a bit of chatter about Necrotic Ooze and its ability to have abilities. The basic idea is that you can have a number of sets of guys in the yard that win the game once the Ooze is online. While many of these sets are instant wins, focus is being placed on the two-card combos since it allows you to find all three pieces with Buried Alive, and win with a Reanimate (or any other reanimation spell).

The combo most people are lauding is Triskelion plus Phyrexian Devourer. At first glance (at the oracle text), it seems like this is not a combo since the removal of Devourer is part of the resolution of the ability. However, you reveal the exiled card as part of the cost, so you can respond to the ability by activating it again if the converted mana cost is three or greater. Still in response, you remove any counters from the Ooze to deal damage to the opponent. You repeat until death. However, this is not as simple as it sounds, since you want to build your deck in such a manner that you have enough spells to succeed in killing via the Ooze.

Another pair of creatures that spell victory are Mogg Fanatic and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. In this example, you can replace Fanatic with Bile Urchin or Death Cultist for infinite life loss, or with Elvish Eulogist to gain infinite life – although why you would want to do that is beyond me. The issue with this combo is the lack of haste on the Ooze, but given the correct structure of the deck, you can work around that.

The most likely way to work this concept into the format is through the adaptation of existing Reanimator lists. Unfortunately, this requires you to slow the deck down from its previous incredibly strong configurations, but it does give the deck another “I win, now” plan, relegating the Iona plan to backup. Here are two different takes on the Reanimator shell, and a completely different concept just for funzies.

“Phyrexelion”

 

“Kiki-Jiki CCCCombo Breaker!”

 

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – Secret of the Ooze”

The Survival build incorporates a number of concepts that I’ve been thinking about playing around with. It has plenty of activated abilities for us to steal with the Ooze, including a bunch of mana producers and pseudo Survivals. It has access to haste a number of ways, and plenty of beat sticks. It plays more Wild Mongrels than Survival Madness, and more ways to get the Vengevines in the yard. It plays 9 Survivals, 10 mana dorks, has an instant win combo, and can still Natural Order up a 10/10. On top of that, it has access to a ton of toolbox options if you find yourself in need. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a successful traditional Survival deck, but I believe the metagame is approaching the position for this to be a strong choice again.

The last deck I want to mention is the infect deck. The 10 poison counter life total is just too enticing for the people who love to attack and Berserk. Since the spoiling of the first guy with a low casting cost, people have been working on getting to ten power as fast as possible. Here’s a list of the kind of thing they’re up to:

This takes the X-land Stompy approach, and sets the life total at 10, instead of 20. It’s much easier to Invigorate a guy and Berserk him when the 3 life is absolutely irrelevant. Realistically, this deck is probably never going to be tier 1, but it does manage to do something with a bunch of the new set’s cards that hasn’t been seen before. That usually allows a decent player to put up some local or even regional success at one or two events before people understand how to play against the deck. The thing to keep in mind here is that although this deck seems pretty “Timmy” on the surface, it’s not all that difficult for your opponent to play a turn 1 guy and kill you turn 2 if you decide its not worth blocking his attacker.

Let’s say you’re on Merfolk, and you keep a reasonable hand that has turn 1 Aether Vial off an Island with plenty of guys to back it up, and Daze plus a Wasteland. It’s an easy keep. Your opponent is on the play and has Chrome Mox, Bayou, Necropede. You don’t mind, since it’s a ten turn clock. You draw a man and play Vial. Your opponent attacks, plays Invigorate, and Berserks. You’re dead. The Berserk could be a Might of Old Krosa. You’re at 1. Let’s say the Necropede was a Plague Stinger. You’re dead on board, no matter what man you play. This deck is a sleeper, but it’s ten times better than the stompy decks of old. Don’t underestimate it, or you may find yourself dead on turn 2.

Finally, a few brief notes on Scars cards that may achieve some Legacy play, but might not.

 

Planeswalkers are always on the verge. If someone decides to revisit the UW Ultimate Walker deck that’s seen play (UW Pwalker control), it could feature Elspeth. My guess is that just like in Standard, that five drop slot is better served as Gideon Jura, and you’d rather have old Elspeth than new. Venser isn’t going to see play. Sorry. Koth has some serious potential, although not in Burn or in Dragon Stompy. He’s too slow in the burn decks that don’t usually get to four mana anyway, and his abilities aren’t particularly crazy in Dragon Stompy, which – unless you’ve already hit a Blood Moon effect – rarely has many Mountains to play around with. If he does see play, it would be in a more midrange red deck that runs other colors and duals to support. This isn’t really out of the question in Legacy. I’m positive he’ll find a home; it’s just not yet apparent where that will be.

Tunnel Ignus

Tunnel Ignus is hyped right now as a way to play Ankh of Mishra in burn, but not have it suck. However, the major way to hit this guy’s trigger is with fetches. It’s simple enough for your opponent to simply fetch on your turn to circumvent the Ignus. While this means you don’t hurt them with the little guy, it does slow the opposition down by about half a turn, which can be long enough to get your burn ahead in the race. It’s probably going to be close, but that’s where the burn deck lives. It’s either a turn too fast or too slow.

 

Nihil Spellbomb 

Nihil Spellbomb gives us a new toy for kicking the crap out of Dredge. We now have access to the following list of cards that eat them alive, and are playable in any deck:

 

It has to feel pretty disheartening to be on dredge these days.

 

Liquimetal Coating + Gorilla Shaman is cute. Liquimetal without Gorilla Shaman is bad. Gorilla Shaman without Liquimetal is embarrassing unless you play it turn one and your opponent leads with Tree of Tales

So, from a 229 (non-basic) card set, we’re looking at ten cards that will definitely see some play, ten that might see play under the right conditions, and one that will but is a reprint. That’s 21 cards, or roughly nine percent of the set. It looks like my prediction of 95% irrelevancy was being too cautious! For a set many are claiming as terrible for Constructed play, it seems like Legacy is actually the format where these cards may shine. Till next time, enjoy all the new toys, and remember – Keep your stick on the ice!

Adam

Nightmare on The Source
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