The year is 2011. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is printed, and lovers of white creatures lose their damn minds. This begins the glory years of D&T. D&T slowly transitions from being a fringe Legacy option to one of the most feared and respected decks of the format. Year after year, D&T puts up results on the highest levels. Thomas Enevoldsen, Michael Bonde, Andrew Calderon, Allen Wu, Michael Skipper, Collin Roundtree…you might have seen some of them on coverage. *old man voice* Back in that day, we had coverage for GPs… *coughs* Anyway… meanwhile, people like Eetai Ben-Sasson, Michael Derczo, and me are putting up lots of results at the local level and on the SCG circuit. Year after year, ridiculously powerful white cards get added to the deck, often only to be replaced by more ridiculous white cards less than a year later. What powerful white cards, you might ask?
Rest in Peace, Spirit of the Labyrinth, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Containment Priest, Council’s Judgment, Vryn Wingmare, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Sanctum Prelate, Recruiter of the Guard, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Brightling, Palace Jailer… you get the point by now.
Relative to the other decks of the format, D&T was increasing its power level at a higher rate for a staggering period of time. It seemed like every set, D&T got a new toy. I don’t know how many jokes I heard about there being a D&T player on the R&D team who was clearly making cards for the deck. Most sets really only had a card or two that were truly Legacy viable (insert Nic Fit joke here), and a huge percentage of those went to D&T. D&T felt like a safe choice for just about any tournament, and we saw many players pivot to D&T, recognizing how powerful it could be in the right environment (e.g. Brad Nelson in the 2015 SCG Players’ Championship). There were things that were tricky to beat. True-Name Nemesis, Deathrite Shaman, and Kolaghan’s Command immediately come to mind. D&T pretty much always kept up though. There were weeks, or even months where D&T wasn’t one of the top archetypes, but it always swung back.
Then WotC violently kicks down the door, blasts the air horns, and rudely decides to start giving other Legacy decks new toys. And not just any toys, toys that happen to specifically be good against D&T.
Karn, the Great Creator, Collector Ouphe, Dreadhorde Arcanist, Wrenn and Six, Plague Engineer, Underworld Breach, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Brazen Borrower, Arcum’s Astrolabe, Bonecrusher Giant, Teferi, Time Raveller, Ice-Fang Coatl… you get the point by now. Most of the Legacy playable cards in the last year or so outside of Veil of Summer and Force of Negation have been directly or indirectly good against D&T. I want to examine some historical reasons to play D&T, and show how the last year of so has drastically changed D&T’s position in the metagame.
D&T has a GREAT Delver matchup.
The Delver matchup used to be a joke. It used to be *the* reason to play the deck. Cast your spells in a random order, get a piece of equipment in play, win target game. It was that easy. Delver could not take equipment out in game 1, and a puny four copies of Bolt just didn’t cut it vs the hoard of white creatures. Now it’s very easy to lose the Delver matchup to a single card. Which card? Actually, they have a few! Dreadhorde Arcanist is a removal machine and a card draw machine (that also happens to wall many of the smaller creatures in D&T). Brazen Borrower makes the equipment package so much worse and makes going all-in on a Jitte or Batterskull so much riskier; Abrade filled this role previously, but Brazen Borrow is maindeckable AND comes with a body. Plague Engineer out of the sb is a beating, answering key cards like Mom and Thalia while also being a clock AND sticking around to deathtouch just about anything else that’s still alive. This matchup has drifted far closer to even than in the past. D&T used to always have the inevitability. D&T used to be more and more favored as the turn counter ticked up. Now one horrifying card from the Delver player swings the game hard. The days of D&T having a 70-30 matchup vs Delver are long gone.
D&T has a GREAT prison/stompy matchup
Decks like Red Prison used to be byes. If you had Chalice of the Void in your deck, I expected to beat you most of the time. D&T was so good at ignoring just about everything these decks were doing. Blood Moon, don’t care. Trinisphere, don’t care. Then Karn, the Great Creator happened. Historically, Ensnaring Bridge was the card that could most easily lock a D&T player out of a game and steal a win. Karn essentially makes it so that these decks are running 7 copies of Bridge in the maindeck while also shutting off Vial/equipment AND threatening to end the game in a single turn as well via Mycosynth Lattice. Let’s not talk about that tutorable Walking Ballista either. Additionally, cards like Bonecrusher Giant and Urza, Lord High Artificer gave these decks new options or angles of attack. The portion of these decks that D&T flat out ignores has gotten smaller, and more of these games are dicey than in the past.
D&T is GREAT vs blue decks
Not so long ago, Rishadan Port and Wasteland were a great pair vs control decks. If your opponent fetched basics to play around Wasteland, you could Port them off a color. If they fetch a dual to play around Port, you got to Wasteland them. Arcum’s Astrolabe has changed that for many matchups. Your opponent can now just fetch basics (ignoring Wasteland) and play Astrolabe, stripping Port of much of its power.
Then there is Oko, Thief of Crowns. I’m not going to beat the dead horse here. You’ve heard it before. Oko is good against everything D&T does. Except you, Mirran Crusader, you still get a gold star. There is a good reason why you see many D&T sideboards with 3 Council’s Judgment, 3 Cataclysm, and maybe even a Pithing Needle to boot.
In addition, D&T is also a bit more afraid than it was in the past to just attack vs control. Baleful Strix was always a bit of an annoyance, but at least you could plan around that thing. Ice-Fang Coatl, on the other hand, has flash. You’ve successfully Revoked Oko! Huzzah! Can you actually attack with Revoker? Can you risk one flashy boy unlocking that Oko and letting the game spiral out of control? If you aren’t attacking with the Revoker, how much damage are you giving up over the course of a game? How many bonus draws/turns do you give your opponent if you play safely? On a similar, but different axis, the Palace Jailer subgame has gotten much harder vs control. It used to be that if you became the Monarch, it was extremely difficult for your opponent to grab that crown. It usually took a few turns of careful setup for them to remove enough creatures that a Snapcaster could get through…now two mana and, whoops, you’ve probably lost the game once they take the crown. Do you want to leave in your Swords to Plowshares vs control decks? If so, how many copies do you want to keep in? How do those Plows feel when you face down Oko, Teferi, or Jace instead? See the problem?
D&T has good tools like Thalia vs Combo
D&T has never had great combo matchups across the board, but it didn’t have atrocious combo matchups either. You had game vs most of the combo decks. This is becoming less true as the combo decks become both faster and more consistent. The newer builds of TES often go under our hate, becoming more consistent with Echo of Eons for non-deterministic lines and Wishclaw Talismen for deterministic lines. The BR Reanimator matchup got considerably triciker post-London Mulligan. Breach is very good at beating the one or two pieces of hate that D&T can throw out. Breach can very either beat Thalia or Revoker without even removing them! D&T usually isn’t applying enough pressure to quickly close the game, so our soft disruption just isn’t good enough in that matchup.
To combat this, many D&T players have tried playing
horrible, abominations alternative decklists. I’ve seen blue splashes for some combination of Meddling Mage, Spell Queller, and Force of Will. I’ve seen builds with either 4 maindeck or sideboard Deafening Silence. I’ve seen builds with both Orim’s Chant and Mindbreak Trap in the sideboard. The primary problem with all these builds is that they are…bad. They have the “winner’s metagame” problem. The decks might be good against the one or two things you specifically design them to beat, but more generally struggle with the wide range of things you have to play against in Legacy.
Putting It Together
So where does this leave D&T? Many of the matchups that were great for D&T in the past are now just good. Many of the matchups that were good in the past are now just fine or even. Many of the matchups that were bad in the past have gotten worse. D&T’s relative positioning in the metagame has dropped due to so many other decks getting a big boost. D&T is not dead, but it’s probably time for most pilots to admit that (at this exact moment) it is a clear tier 2 strategy. D&T will swing back, but it might have to wait until either a banning or the printing of another really great hate bear to do so. D&T just isn’t great vs the big pillars of the format at the moment: Oko, Breach, and Arcanist. D&T pilots have to work really hard and play really well to keep up with the other decks; this is something that has always been true, as the difference between a good and mediocre D&T pilot is massive, but now frequently “perfect” or close to optimal play isn’t good enough.
Another big problem D&T has right now is that its sideboard is stretched too thin. Oko is a huge problem. Breach is a big problem. These two decks require very different sorts of sideboard cards. If you start your sideboard with 6-7 answers to Oko and then play 6-7 cards that help the Breach matchup, how many generic cards do you have left? Do you have enough cards for your other common matchups like Delver? Do you have enough cards to have decent boarding options when you get paired against the random decks of the format? If you don’t gear your deck heavily to beat Oko and Breach, can you really expect to do well in a big event? I personally have felt really at a loss with selecting a decklist. I’ve tried many things, and pretty much all of them have felt underwhelming. Recording my D&T league for my Daily D&T Youtube series has often recently felt like a chore rather than one of the high points of my week. Even some of the other D&T champions like Xjcloud (who has had more faith in the deck than I have in the past year) have started posting about feeling lost in the format as a D&T player and wondering what they should be doing instead.
There are still ideas to be tested. People have been kicking around Abeyance, Orim’s Chant, Dryad Militant, Remorseful Cleric, Leonin Arbiter… My question for all the D&T pilots out there is, “Is testing these cards the best use of your time?” Should you be investing your time learning to play Breach instead? Should you pivot to another D&T-esque deck like Maverick, Loam, Eldrazi, or Red Prison that will use your skillset but perhaps give you a better winrate across the board? This article isn’t meant to be all doom and gloom. You can still have success with D&T. You will still see a D&T decklist in the 5-0 decklist dump each week. That being said, you should really be thinking about *why* you are playing D&T if you’re still jamming Thalias and Vials. You shouldn’t let your emotional attachment to a deck influence your tournament results. This is a mistake that I’ve made (many times) in the past.
There are, in my mind, four reasons to play D&T currently. 1. You have more games with D&T than any other deck by an order of magnitude. 2. You only own D&T and do not have the option to switch decks easily. 3. You are looking to get involved with Legacy, but are on a budget. 4. You are playing local level events where your metagame is largely devoid of either Oko or Breach, giving you fewer deckbuilding constraints.
I hope I’ve given you some useful things to think about today. I wrote this entire article prior to the announcement that there would be a banning announcement next Monday (3/9). I don’t know know if anything will change for Legacy, but given the historical treatment of Legacy, I’d expect Breach to be here for at least a little bit longer. If nothing changes Monday, then everything above still applies. If something does change, then it’s time to reevaluate D&T again.