There is a short list in Magic.
Past in Flames[/draft]
This is the list of the most ridiculous cards to ever see print. These are the engines of the game. They generate mana, they draw cards, they kill the opponent. They do it from the bleakest of board states, from the most improbable of situations. From 1 life. They change the way we play and understand this game. They teach us that creatures are not needed. They undo every bit of theory of card advantage and tempo ever conceived.
Sure, there are other cards that were broken mistakes- [card]Tinker[/card], [card]Yawgmoth’s Bargain[/card], [card]Ad Nauseam[/card]. But these cards do not make your opponent relevant. When you play with these cards, your life total matters. I hate to say it, but [card]Ad Nauseam[/card], [card]Yawgmoth’s Bargain[/card], [card]Tinker[/card]… these are cards that play FAIR!
But this list of cards above you right now? You see that? No. That’s not a list of cards. That’s a list of decks.
I hadn’t played Magic in almost a year. I had grown too old for the JSS. My brother had too, and he had mostly retired. He was my main sparring partner, and without him I was moving on to a more “normal” way of being. Instead of playing Magic I was playing basketball, being a punk, and hanging out with my girlfriend. Like any other superhero who tries his hand at being “normal”, I was called back to duty for something greater than myself.
The JSS was extended to 16 year olds, which meant I was legally out of retirement. The hands of time had rewound themselves. And this wasn’t just about the game… this was about MONEY! It would be stupid to not show up and collect my $500.
The night before the tournament I got back home at about midnight. Not only had I not been playing Magic, I hadn’t been reading articles. I took an hour to look at decklists, and see what people were playing. And then it was into the tank.
Win the JSS qualifier.
Build the deck from scratch for less than $50.
You have 8 hours- GO!
I scoured the gatherer and came across this lil’ guy right here-
At 3 AM I retired, satisfied with my deck. It generated mana with [card]Rite of Flame[/card], [card]Seething Song[/card], and [card]Lotus Bloom[/card]. It drew cards with [card]Serum Visions[/card] and [card]Compulsive Research[/card]. It killed with [card]Wee Dragonauts[/card], [card]Empty the Warrens[/card], and [card]Ignite Memories[/card].
My first critical mass combo deck!
I showed up early the next day, bought the whole deck for less than $30, and won the tournament. I was hooked.
Let’s fast forward in time a little bit.
Friday 4 AM
I have Magic Workstation solo double-queued in SIX rooms in THREE buildings today. Friends around me have changed, slowly, but I haven’t noticed. The buzz of flirting, drinking, and merriment has circled overhead like clouds on a blue sky. I tune it out. But all around me I see THIS. Do you see it?
No? That’s okay. First you need to clear your mind. Got it? NOW take a look.
‘06 Past in Flames
[deck]4 Past in Flames
4 Dark Ritual
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Rite of Flame
2 Seething Song
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Cabal Therapy
4 Glimpse the Unthinkable
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Burning Wish
2 Wooded Foothills
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island
1 Tendrils of Agony
2 Burning Wish
4 Dark Confidant
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Coffin Purge
1 Shattering Spree
2 Empty the Warrens
1 Reverent Silence
Ok, this is a LOT to take in. So let’s break the deck down so we can understand it better.
Card by Card Tips
[draft]past in flames[/draft]
First, our namesake. [card]Past in Flames[/card] is our [card]Ad Nauseam[/card]. But unlike an [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] deck we are free to take damage, take time, and play cards that cost more than 1-2 without risking death. However, with that comes a whole slew of new design restrictions. One important thing to note about this card- it only grants flashback to cards that are currently in our graveyard. As a result, some turns we might find ourselves casting [card]Past in Flames[/card] two or more times. One doesn’t always get the job done, but that’s okay. We have more time than the average combo deck.
The fact that this card has flashback is just ridiculous, and THAT alone is the reason why I think this deck is such a good choice for legacy. In a hostile field full of [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s and [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card]s the average combo deck begins to falter. Our critical mass can come from EITHER our hand OR the graveyard. We are a combo deck that can win with an EMPTY HAND! That is just plain incredible to me. We are also a combo deck that can win with an empty graveyard, so don’t get that twisted.
Lion’s eye diamond
Rite of flame
These are our fast mana cards. On our big turn we want to get to 5 or 6 mana to cast [card]Past in Flames[/card] with at least 1 mana floating so that we can recast all of them again. Each of these cards is carefully chosen. [card]Rite of Flame[/card] and [card]Seething Song[/card] are important because red mana is key. [card]Seething Song[/card] is a little better than [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] because we don’t always have threshold during our big turn, and black usually isn’t as good as red when we are comboing off. We nod our head to [card]Dark Ritual[/card], the best fast ritual ever printed. However, the best ritual in the deck isn’t a ritual at all. It’s [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card].
[card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card] cannot be reused with [card]Past in Flames[/card]. That’s okay. It has a lot of other important uses. First, it can produce red, blue, or black, and this flexibility comes in handy when deciding what kind of mana we need to float when casting [card]Past in Flames[/card]. Secondly, the drawback is mostly negated. We are going to be recasting our spells anyway, so the most significant way the discard effects us is increasing the cost of [card]Past in Flames[/card] from 4 to 5. Keep that in mind when deciding whether or not you can go off.
This is our disruption suite. First let’s talk about [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card]. This card is the real deal for any sort of a combo deck that has a big, vulnerable turn. It’s no surprise that this card was recently in the top 8 of Pro Tour Philadelphia in Sam Black’s VICIOUS turn 2 kill poison deck. The card gives a lot of vital information, and it also happens to be great with [card]Past in Flames[/card], because it can generate new draws without giving up any mana.
[card]Cabal Therapy[/card] is an extremely hard card to play. Fortunately, [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] provides the training wheels to ensure that we (rarely) miss. The card has some serious advantages over [card]Thoughtseize[/card] or [card]Duress[/card] in this deck. It can take two or more copies of a key spell out of an opponent’s hand. We also have a lot of ways to find the card, so we are bound to see a couple copies of it over the course of a game. We also have access to [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] and [card]Bloodghast[/card], which means that over the course of a long game we are going to get PLENTY of rebuys to rip our opponent’s hand to shreds. The more cards we take, the more time we have, the easier it is for us to win.
[card]Cabal Therapy[/card] Tip- You almost never want to play this card in the dark on turn 1 but there are some exceptions. It might be the right play if you are mana tight AND you have several more Therapys. In such a case I would probably name [card]Force of Will[/card]. Get your scouts in!
This card offers great selection. It finds [card]Past in Flames[/card] when we need to go off. It finds [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] or [card]Bloodghast[/card] when we need disruption. It finds a ritual before we go off to make sure we have enough mana. It finds our kill spell before or after we go off when we have the luxury to go for the win.
Keep in mind that a flashbacked [card]Entomb[/card] doesn’t make the new spell readily available because of [card]Past in Flame[/card] rules. It’s still often a relevant play if we have excess mana for a second [card]Past in Flames[/card].
This is our selection and robustness. The card is just crazy. First of all, any spells in those ten cards we are going to cast off of [card]Past in Flames[/card]. Oh yeah, did I mention that [card]Past in Flames[/card] has flashback? Yes, [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card] actually finds Past in Flames. It also finds additional copies of [card]Cabal Therapy[/card], more [card]Rite of Flames[/card] to fuel [card]Rite of Flames[/card] we might be holding, and [card]Bloodghast[/card].
There are some alternatives to Glimpse, but none of them are as strong. We could play a full set of [card]Entomb[/card] and a [card]Stinkweed Imp[/card]. The [card]Stinkweed Imp[/card] can also block. Still, this is only half as many cards to the bin and we run the risk of drawing the imp when it’s not useful. We could play [card]Brainfreeze[/card]. [card]Brainfreeze[/card] is really cool in concept, and it can occasionally mill us for 12-15 (or them for everything). Realistically it is usually good for around 6 cards, which just isn’t as many. We could play Intuition. The problem with Intuition is it costs 3, and we can’t realistically get to 3 without burning a ritual. Even if we hit the land, a turn 4 kill is slow in a lot of matchups. Also, Intuition is only good for 3 cards.
[card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card] is simply the most consistent and powerful for the right mana.
[card]Manamorphose[/card] is an extremely important card for us, and we need to play 4. Oftentimes our [card]Past in Flames[/card] leaves us with 1 red mana floating. This mana can be spent on an old [card]Rite of Flame[/card], which generates enough mana for [card]Manamorphose[/card]. This unlocks [card]Dark Ritual[/card], and now the game is afoot. Once we have enough mana we can play another [card]Manamorphose[/card] for UB, and Flashback Glimpse to find more gas.
One thing to keep in mind about our deck is we are not really a storm deck. In a true storm deck it is important to save all of your spells for one big turn, but we only care about mana on the big turn, usually not spell count. If you have nothing better to do I would recommend burning extra [card]Manamorphoses[/card] during the main phase to dig for [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card] or [card]Cabal Therapy[/card].
[card]Brainstorm[/card] is both extremely powerful and extremely difficult to play. The card always plays a little differently in different decks, so even if you’re an expert on [card]Brainstorm[/card] in Merfolk, you should listen up. In our deck in particular, the shuffle value is often a little less important so I recommend playing it on turn 1 if the alternative is wasting a mana. We are mana light.
One of the important roles of this card in our deck is protecting valuable pieces of our hand from discard. Use your best judgment when deciding whether to protect fast mana, discard, or selection. I’m almost always okay with leaving [card]Past in Flames[/card] exposed on account of the Flashback cost.
Big combo turns usually reach their climax with either Glimpse or [card]Brainstorm[/card], and this is because we are tight on blue mana. If we have enough mana Glimpse is usually a safer play that powers us to victory. Oftentimes we don’t have the spare mana and need to look for the tools to win with [card]Brainstorm[/card]. Always make sure to recount your mana before and during going off so that you don’t get yourself stuck.
[draft]Tendrils of agony
Here’s the big kill. [card]Tendrils of Agony[/card] gets the nod because it results in INSTANT death for the opponent. [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] is usually better to start out with in your opening hand because of the great starts you can get, but giving an opponent an extra turn after comboing is really risky, even if you cleared their hand out with [card]Cabal Therapy[/card]s.
[card]Burning Wish[/card] is another kill spell that can also solve any sort of problem we find ourselves in. In addition to Tendrils and Empty, [card]Burning Wish[/card] is an answer to any sort of troublesome artifact or enchantment our opponent might put out, in the form of [card]Shattering Spree[/card] or [card]Reverent Silence[/card] (in which case we’d need to fetch the [card]Dryad Arbor[/card]).
Two kill spells is the right number for presideboarded games where we have the luxury of going through most of our deck, filling a huge graveyard, and killing as an afterthought. In grindy post sideboarded games where every ounce counts, and our hand and graveyard are under threat, we’re going to want some extra copies of big storm spells to put our opponents in an early hole if they tap out.
[deck]2 Wooded Foothills
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island
1 Dryad Arbor[/deck]
This is our manabase- we jump through a lot of hoops for [card]Cabal Therapy[/card], but it’s worth it. Any of the 10 green fetchlands can be traded in for an extra [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] if needed. They are dual land / discard spells split cards. That’s not bad for a land.
We also get to play a lot of fetchlands for [card]Brainstorm[/card] and plenty of duals for [card]Wasteland[/card] protection.
[card]Ad Nauseam[/card], which we closely resemble, is the most consistent and powerful critical mass combo deck in Legacy, so let’s compare.
Weaknesses as Compared to Ad Nauseam
Our goldfish is slower– sometimes our early game is a turn 2 [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card]. Other times our early game is focused on casting as many [card]Cabal Therapy[/card]s as possible. In short, we are not a turn 2 combo deck, and sometimes we aren’t even a turn 3 combo deck. This gives our opponent a little more time if they are durdling around.
We are vulnerable to graveyard disruption– so we are vulnerable to graveyard disruption… but we aren’t THAT vulnerable. After sideboard we have a lot of answers to something like [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card]. We can also function perfectly fine as an [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] storm deck if we need to sideboard into it.
Strengths as compared to Ad Nauseam
We can play a higher average converted mana cost– [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] decks need to keep the average CMC of the deck low because life = cards. That’s not true for us. We can play 4 [card]Past in Flames[/card] and be okay with it. We can also max on [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card], an incredible spell, without having to give up cards down the road.
We can take a lot more damage– we can win from 1 life. This is really important because most legacy decks beat down with creatures while disrupting. Having life not be an issue gives us a LOT more time to make sure we have the win before going for it.
We are more resilient to hand disruption– we can win without a hand. No [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] deck is going to be able to do that. Our weakness to graveyard disruption is due to a HUGE resilience to cards like [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card].
Our disruption is better in a longer game– over the course of a medium length game it isn’t unusual for us to cast [card]Cabal Ritual[/card] 4 times. This shreds the opponent’s hand to bits and gives us all sorts of time to fight through whatever they have left. Your average Ad nauseam deck might cast only a single Thoughtseize effect.
Playing Against Important Cards
[draft]Force of Will[/draft]
[card]Force of Will[/card] is the most common way for opponents to interact with us. Counter spells are tough, but this counterspell is the king. Our opponent can tap out and still be representing it jut by having an [card]Underground Sea[/card] in play. There isn’t a good way to know if they have it or not, and many combo players have been caught by a well timed [card]Force of Will[/card] that destroys their house of cards. So how do we beat it?
[card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] and [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] tell us if they have it or not. If they don’t have it we can proceed. If they do have it, we NEED to get rid of it. We have 4 copies of [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] to go after it and plenty of ways to find them. Sometimes it is right to save our last Therapy for the turn we are going to go off, just in case they topdecked it or hid it off of a [card]Brainstorm[/card] (which is another important card to go after).
We have several options if they have [card]Force of Will[/card] and we don’t have [card]Cabal Therapy[/card]. If we have 3-4 lands and at least 1 [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card] we can put them in a position where they have to counter our [card]Past in Flames[/card] without us having to give up everything. Another alternative is finding the Tendrils or the [card]Burning Wish[/card] and powering through it.
[card]Force of Will[/card] is a really fun card to play against because of all the decisions that come up. It’s fairly good against us, but we are well prepared to beat it.
[draft]Hymn to tourach[/draft]
[card]Hymn to Tourach[/card] is the most powerful discard spell in Legacy. Losing two random cards is backbreaking for most decks, combo or not. Fortunately, we are EXTREMELY well positioned against this card. Cards in our graveyard will be useful again later in the game. The cards we want to hang on to the most are our fast mana cards, because everything else is bonus.
Here are a couple tips for playing against Hymn to Tourach-
-Run out [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card] on the first turn. LED is one of our best cards and we don’t want to lose it to discard or a daze effect. We don’t care too much about our storm count most of the time, and the security of having our LED’s sit in play while our opponent rips our hand apart is nice.
-[card]Brainstorm[/card] protects us from Hymn.
-[card]Cabal Therapy[/card] is another weapon. If our opponent leads on either a [card]Bayou[/card] or a [card]Scrubland[/card], I would Therapy for Hymn, unless it meant passing on playing Glimpse.
[card]Hymn to Tourach[/card] is really popular in both Junk and BUG decks right now and for good reason. Our positioning against it is one of the major selling points of this deck.
Wasteland is maybe the most common interactive card we will face. Any deck can play it, and a well-timed [card]Wasteland[/card] can end the game, especially for a deck that only plays 17 lands. Fortunately, we are well set up to battle this card.
We have ten fetchlands. Fetchlands are one of the best ways to fight [card]Wasteland[/card] because they protect our mana until we need to use it. If you want to cast either [card]Brainstorm[/card] or [card]Entomb[/card] on the first turn I recommend leading on a fetch and waiting if possible. If you lead on a fetch your opponent is unlikely to lead on a [card]Wasteland[/card], meaning we can get to 2 mana to cast [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card]. We also have two of each dual land, which gives us resilience in a longer game. [card]Wasteland[/card] is only really a problem when it keeps us off our only land.
In general, I think [card]Wasteland[/card] is simply a miser’s card in most decks. A turn 1 [card]Wasteland[/card] is merely a 1 for 1 trade. There is often tempo lost in the process. [card]Wasteland[/card] is much better later in the game, when trading a turn with an opponent creates advantage.
[draft]Relic of progenitus[/draft]
A lot of decks have [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] or [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card] in the sideboard. The first step to battling these cards is staying up to date on current decklists so that you have an idea of whether the opponent is going to bring them in against us. Either way, I’m not too scared of these cards for a couple reasons.
[card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] is pretty good, but the first ability is not very relevant. If our opponent is lulled into a sense of security we can untap and go off. They pretty much need to leave 1 mana up for this card, which really slows their development.
We are also really set up to fight this card after sideboard. We are going to have access to an [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], which we can find via [card]Entomb[/card] or Glimpse, which we can flashback off of either [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] or our sideboarded [card]Bayou[/card]. We will also have access to 3 [card]Burning Wish[/card]es, which gives us lots of ways to find [card]Shattering Spree[/card]. We can also backdoor Relic by going straight for [card]Empty the Warrens[/card].
This deck mulligans better than most of the decks in the format. There is a lot of redundancy and selection, so most hands with enough mana are keepers. The only hands I always throw back are the hands that need 1 more mana to do something. Even if you have a Gitaxian Probe, you can’t trust the top of your deck to cough up a hard mana source with only 15-17 in there.
Rite of flame
Tendrils of agony
Glimpse the unthinkable[/draft]
This is a hand that could easily fool you. It looks great, but if you don’t hit a black source really soon the game might be lost. Even 3 draws aren’t likely to find that black source that you desperately need. I’d be happier with six. Throw it back!
In Legacy, there are tons of decks, and tons of variations of each deck. It’s not possible to provide a useful sideboarding “guide” so I’ll give you some tips. In general, this deck is pretty easy to sideboard with. It’s a well-oiled machine so you usually don’t have room to wiggle too many cards in and out. It is also a [card]Burning Wish[/card] deck, which means the sideboard is pretty small.
Cards I often cut-
Against decks without [card]Force of Will[/card] I often cut [card]Bloodghast[/card], [card]Dryad Arbor[/card], and some number of [card]Cabal Rituals[/card]. If I need more cuts I might trim [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card].
Against decks from which I anticipate a ton of graveyard hate, I cut some to all of [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card].
Cards I often bring in-
Against decks with [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] or [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card] I bring in the [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] and swap the [card]Bayou[/card] with a dual. I also often bring in the [card]Burning Wish[/card]es and an [card]Empty the Warrens[/card].
Against decks with [card]Wasteland[/card] I might sideboard up to 18 lands.
Against decks with important graveyard cards (such as reanimator) I bring in the [card]Coffin Purge[/card].
Against decks that play important 1 toughness creatures, I bring in [card]Darkblast[/card]. The most notable card is [card]Dark Confidant[/card].
Most opponents are going to be better suited at interacting with us post sideboard, and I want to increase my threat density if possible. If there is room I will bring in the [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] and [card]Burning Wish[/card].
[card]Dark Confidant[/card] is another powerful sideboard tool we have. While we can’t play it on turn 1 very often, it is still a great turn 2 play. I like to bring it in against decks that are disruption heavy and threat light. It is also good in [card]Thoughtseize[/card] battles, and finds a home in many combo mirrors.
Destroying Your Opponents
[card]Past in Flames[/card] is absolutely ridiculous in Legacy and I’ve been having a ton of fun playing with it. The deck is fast, reliable, and resilient. Not only is the deck good, but the games are INCREDIBLY fun. They can go really, really long, and are often really grindy and interactive. They are high pressure, and require a lot of tough decisions. You have a good start to playing this new broken deck from this article, but nothing prepares like practice. The deck requires a lot of technical plays that are made easier by experience, so I recommend doing some goldfishing and live testing before taking it to the battleground. Good luck and have fun!
<3 Travis twitter.com/travisdwoo