I’ve spent the last week or two doing some brewing and trying some experimental ideas. This was partially because I was curious to see how some of my theories played out and partially because I wasn’t sure if I was playing what was going to become a dead format if Deathrite Shaman got a ban. Unfortunately, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this year, and that means we’ve got a long Deathrite Shaman-filled winter ahead of us…or something like that. In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts on the format.
Enchantments are great
If we boil down Legacy right now to its simplest form, we’re currently living in a world of Grixis Delver and Czech Pile vs Anti-Delver/Czech Pile decks (note that here I am also referring to the decks that are conceptual clones Czech Pile as well). This is obviously an oversimplification, as there are other top tier competitors, but bear with me for a minute. It’s very similar to the relationship between Turbo-xerox decks and Shops decks in Vintage. On the Legacy side, Red Prison seeks to invalidate many of the strengths of these decks with Blood Moon and/or Blood Sun. Miracles similarly tries to lock out opponents with Back to Basics. D&T gets to leverage the power of Rest in Peace for post-sideboard games.
Enchantments seem to be a great way to attack the format currently, and I don’t just mean that within the context of D&T. Most of the popular decks in Legacy have few to no answers to a resolved enchantment. Cards like Sylvan Library have always been great, but it might honestly be a good time to revisit decks with maindeck enchantments or even an enchantment theme or subtheme. Though I didn’t stream with this due to the potential poor viewer experience, I played around with this decklist quite a bit.
Enchantress by Fjaulnir, MTGO 5-0
Though I’m not necessarily sold on a few of the sideboard cards, I feel like the maindeck here is just absolutely insane in the current metagame. For anyone not familiar with the “combo finish” of this deck, it involves Words of Wind, Candelabra of Tawnos, at least two Enchantress effects, a land that produces multiple mana, and a one mana enchantment. You tap the land for mana and then untap it with Candelabra. Next you cast the one mana enchantment and replace two draws with Words of Wind. Using one draw, you bounce a one mana enchantment; using the other, you bounce Candelabra. You can then repeat this process to bounce all of your opponent’s permanents, often drawing as much of your deck as you need to win in the process. Though this may sound like a surprising number of cards to assemble, in practice it’s not too difficult once you start doing your thing. Words of Wind gets my award for “Card that looks like garbage but is secretly insane and the opponent really needed to Force of Will it.” I really need a better name for that award…
The Stoneforge Mystic Package is still important in D&T
There’s been a theory floating around the D&T watercooler that the Stoneforge Mystic package is an outdated relic of older iterations of the deck. This theory has been championed strongly by Bahra (Marc Konig) and has been explored quite a bit by the community recently. The crux of the argument is twofold: 1. Stoneforge Mystic, while providing card selection, costs an absolute ton of tempo. Something like 6 mana worth of investment can often be undone with a single one mana removal spell. 2. The equipment is no longer guaranteed to survive like in previous metagames now that cards like Kolaghan’s Command and Abrupt Decay are seeing significant play.
I think there is quite a bit of truth to the theory, but, I’m still not sure that it’s really viable to cut the Stoneforge package and still end up with a balanced deck. Many of the D&T decks that I’ve played in the last week or two have gone “off the deep end” in one direction or another. They tended to hedge very strongly against the Delver and Czech Pile decks of the world, but didn’t necessarily have enough game against the “random” decks of the format. The equipment package is one of the best ways to fight against a bunch of the midrange and alternative aggro decks of the format. There are two other big downsides to cutting the Stoneforge package.
First, you lose out on one of the deck’s best two drops. D&T historically has always craved a better two drop. Many of the lists I played have been so heavy on three drops like Mirran Crusader *because* it’s so difficult to slot in more two drops. If you want to cut the Stoneforge package (especially if you also want to trim Revokers, which has been a recent trend), you need to fill the gap on the curve. The issue is that many of the cards are either low-impact, narrow, or otherwise lack a desired quality. Spirit of the Labyrinth, Ethersworn Canonist, and Selfless Spirit are about the best “true” two drops to consider, with Direfleet Daredevil and Serra Avenger not really being something that you can cast on curve for the sake of this conversation.
Secondly, you lose out on the best mana sink in the deck. D&T rarely truly floods. Most of the time between Rishadan Port and the equipment package, you have at least something to do with your mana, even if it isn’t always the most optimal or efficient thing. Without the equipment package, if you flooding out or are in topdeck mode, most of your cards besides Recruiter of the Guard won’t give you much to do. As an aside, with Stoneforge gone, your Flickerwisps also lose a fantastic blink target, further decreasing some of your late game power.
For those of you who want to continue messing around with builds without the Stoneforge package, I’d encourage you to either trim some lands or find a new mana sink. I don’t have the clean answer for how to do that yet. Cutting white-producing lands doesn’t seem like the best idea, as casting the WW three drops would become trickier. Cutting Port or Wasteland doesn’t seem correct either. Maybe notorious scumbag land Horizon Canopy has a place in that shell….
Honor of the Pure is surprisingly good
Returning back to the “enchantments are good” theme, I tested maindeck and sideboard Honor of the Pure in a number of different shells. It over-performed, which was not really something that I expected. Some creatures like Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Mirran Crusader, Judge’s Familiar, and Hallowed Spiritkeeper (more on that in a minute…) are much better with a little boost. Your vigilant creatures in particular appreciate the boost, as it gives you both an offensive and defensive bonus; if you’re playing Honor of the Pure, previous borderline unplayable cards like Aerial Responder deserve another look as well.
While I was playing Honor of the Pure to hedge against the top of the metagame, it also helped me close the game more quickly against combo decks like ANT or Sneak and Show while also minimizing the impact of hateful cards like Izzet Staticaster or Forked Bolt. I rarely boarded it out, if that tells you anything about its performance. There are some “nonbos” with it though. Phyrexian Revoker (and splash cards you might be playing) don’t get the boost. It’s also poor to try and play it alongside both Vryn Wingmare and Thalia, as casting it can be a bit tricky through the stacked taxes.
Hallowed Spiritkeeper is also surprisingly good in the current metagame
I tested Hallowed Spiritkeeper quite a bit previously and was terribly disappointed with the card. I tested it in a metagame full of white removal though, which is not what we are seeing currently. In a world of non-white removal, this is a great flex slot option. This is an awesome silver bullet to have against Czech Pile, as in the late game, it is essentially a weird True-Name Nemesis. They usually can’t kill this card, as the army of spirits that would follow would be insurmountable. As an aside, this card is absolutely disgusting when coupled with Honor of the Pure. Full credit goes to Bahra there for that sweet synergy. Unfortunately, this card doesn’t pair so well with our favorite sideboard card, Rest in Peace. That’s a real tension, so if you want to mess around with Spiritkeeper as more than about a one of, consider alternative graveyard hate for your sideboard.
Though I got thoroughly trounced while playing this build, something like this that incorporates both Honor of the Pure and Spiritkeeper might have promise with a few adjustments.
Many of the best cards against Deathrite decks are still weak to Deathrite decks
I think this has been one of the most frustrating aspects of playtesting in the last few weeks. There’s a desire to play cards that let you grind through Deathrite, but many of the best grinding cards also get checked by Deathrite. Want to use Hallowed Spiritkeeper to attack Czech Pile? It’s a shame that Deathrite can peck away at your graveyard to mess with the trigger…. Do you think that Direfleet Daredevil is great as an additional set of removal spells vs Delver? It’s a shame that it can’t do its thing in the face of active Deathrite unless you get really cute with the timing. Want to play Rest in Peace to fight against the menance? It’s a shame that Delvers, Young Pyromancer, and True-Name don’t care about the graveyard. Want to get some sick value by bringing by your dudes with Unearth? Oh, it’s a shame you have to deal with the Hungry Hungry Caterpillar…err Deathrite Shaman. You get the point here.
Many deckbuilding decisions will make your deck better against Delver or Czech Pile, not both
There a real tension in D&T deckbuilding right now (though this might cross over to many decks, to be frank). You want to have a great, grindy endgame to compete with Czech Pile’s card advantage, yet you also need a strong early game with varied removal to fight Delver. The Stoneforge package is one of your best ways to stabilize and take over a game against Delver, but feels pretty silly in the face of the third Kolaghan’s Command of the game against Czech Pile. There are some overlaps cards that hit both matchups, but it’s a tricky position. If you want to play some swingy four drop to beat Czech Pile, that card is going to feel terrible when Daze eats it for borderline no investment. Similarly, if you want to hedge against Delver by playing more maindeck removal, that card feels terrible when it targets a Snapcaster or Baleful Strix.
This contributes to the tension in splash builds at the moment as well. Pia and Kiran Nalaar is a nightmare for control decks, but usually uncastable against Delver due to the RR requirements. Magus of the Moon can be lights out against Delver, but feels pretty silly in the face of an opposing Island and Swamp from Czech Pile.
In the past two weeks, there have been a ton of kooky D&T lists floating around. Some of them look pretty neat. I’m a big fan of a ton of what’s going on in this list.
BW Taxes, Egget, 5-0
Dark Confidant is a great way to keep drawing gas in the endgame, and it’s a good potential way to fill the gap left by removing the Stoneforge package. The Disciple of Bolas and Hallowed Spiritkeeper best-friends-forever combo might be a stretch, but this is a nice starting point for a black splash.
Others of them were…less good.
Unkillable D&T, Phil Gallagher
Conceptually, I liked the direction this decklist was exploring. The idea was to generate a series of threats that were borderline unkillable for decks like Czech Pile and Delver and then help them to close out the game by pumping them with Honor of the Pure. It didn’t perform well, but the idea probably has some promise. Auriok Champion was crazy against the Young Pyromancer aspect of Grixis Delver, I ended up at 30 or 40 life in many of the games I played. There were some cute synergies in the deck, like Brimaz, King of Oreskos making tokens that got pumped by Honor of the Pure and also gaining you life off of Auriok Champion. I don’t know that I’d explore this style of deck further, but Auriok Champion definitely showed that it could be a viable sideboard card. At the same time, I do sort of want to have an Auriok Champion in play when a Hallowed Spiritkeeper dies…
My intention today was to give you all quite a bit to think about when it comes to deckbuilding and metagaming right now. I don’t have the answers yet, but you can expect me to be trying out a ton of ideas in the next two weeks as I prep for the Team Open in Baltimore. Dominaria will be legal then, so it’s possible that some cards might make a splash there, but I wouldn’t expect any major changes that will overthrow our current overlords.