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Legacy's Allure 2K9

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The letter I!n this week's installment of Top Decks, you will find...


1) Some gushing about the largest ever North American Grand Prix.
2) More—yes, more—about Gabriel Nassif.
3) A little something for the Extended Faerie-Wizards metagame.

Let's get to it ... er ... them:

So this past weekend in Chicago was a record-breaker for North American Grand Prix, drawing over 1200 players from around the world to shuffle up and compete in the seldom-featured Legacy format.

Since we are talking about a huge jump, nearly half again up from when Steve Sadin and his Billy Moreno-designed Hulk Flash deck took down Grand Prix–Columbus (the last time we saw a big Legacy event in North America), it probably bears speculation... What makes Legacy so special? What's the especial allure?

The biggest chunk of answer is that you get to play with lots of cards!


Specifically, you get to play with cards that you aren't allowed to play with anymore in more common competitive formats like Standard or Extended, or in a broader sense, cards that have almost never been legal for broad-based competitive tournament play ... at least not this decade.

Huh?

The easiest way we can illustrate what I am talking about is—not surprisingly—with a deck.

Kurtis Droge's Blue Zoo
Legacy, Grand Prix-Chicago, 2009

This is Kurtis Droge's deck from Grand Prix–Chicago. Kurtis finished in the money with this very interesting take on a classic "Monkey May I?" style of Blue Zoo, opening up undefeated on Day One.

What is interesting about this deck is that even though the fancy blue spells—Brainstorm, Daze, and Force of Will—are unavailable in Extended today, the left-hand column is something that we could accomplish with the available resources ... but no one has tried to do thus far.

The idea is a simple one. This is a quality creature deck with an intriguing reload: Ranger of Eos keeps Kurtis's threats available. He merely goes and gets Kird Ape and Wild Nacatl.


The thing that makes a deck like this viable is the land mix. Tundra. Volcanic Island. Laced together with Polluted Delta and Windswept Heath.

In Extended, the peers are Hallowed Fountain or Temple Garden ... and we have a deck archetype that plays every single color and routinely gets five different basic land types into play. But the cost is great. We joke about Zoo-style decks "starting on 14," which can be lethal in a fast-damage format like Extended (at least sometimes). But in Legacy, there is very little life downside beyond breaking the Onslaught dual lands for a mere one life. In fact, the presence of Brainstorm and Ponder (and Counterbalance in other decks) makes things infinitely more interesting, not at all prohibitive.


The result is that decks even remotely similar to what Kurtis tried to do have to play with single-minded offense. They are almost universally Domain Zoo, Gaea's Might Get There, or Naya Burn based ... because Extended's land mix puts players behind the eight ball in such a way that they almost have to race, not play a methodical CounterSliver-style game or mess around with cards like Rushing River.

This Legacy land flexibility makes so many different things possible. We have not seen a true "Monkey May I?" ("Monkey" being "Ape," as in Kird; "May I?" asking for, you know, permission) since ... can it be the Type I Pro Tour of 1996? Splashing Islands lets players run Daze. All those Onslaught fetchlands make Brainstorm wonderful. A wide palette of amazing one-drops ... gives us the ability to play them with the permission spells, land fixing, and Brainstorms.

The same format gives players the opportunity to play all-in attack decks, offensively overloaded discard decks, lightning-quick combination decks, and of course the darling of the format, Counterbalance + Sensei's Divining Top decks of every spot and stripe.


As you look at the decks in this article (or study the coverage of Grand Prix–Chicago or other Legacy events) you may be surprised by the format's comparatively low land counts (unless we are talking about a 41-land deck, that is!). Part of that can be attributed to the extremely wide palette of available cards. When a color like green can play two different 3/3 creatures for one mana (Wild Nacatl and Nimble Mongoose), there is sufficient selection to shave a couple of points off the average curve. However, the more interesting wrinkle comes from the numerous, stackable, and relishably redundant suite of one-mana cantrips (and thereabouts).

For about the past 12 years the rule of thumb in Constructed has been that for every four one- or two-mana cantrips, cycling cards, or equivalents, a player can cut two lands from his or her deck. Therefore a deck like Gabriel Nassif's, which plays only 20 lands (and of those, only 12 mana-producing lands) operates more or less like a deck boasting more than 25 lands thanks to Brainstorm, Ponder, Sensei's Divining Top, and some nonzero (if not immediate) impact from ye olde Darke Confidante.

Oh, and before we get to the meat of this week's deck lists, that 41-land deck...

Chris Andersen's 41-Land Deck
Legacy, Grand Prix-Chicago 2009

For anyone who has ever claimed about chronic mana problems, "always being mana-screwed" or whatever ... this might be the deck for you! While it's not impossible to draw no lands with this deck, it sure ain't likely.

So why might a deck like this one be good?


The lands in this deck tend to "do something" beyond just tapping for mana. Barbarian Ring is a way to win and also creature defense. Ghost Quarter might as well be Strip Mine in a format with few if any basic lands. Wasteland, um, also might as well be Strip Mine .... but like an even better one contextually. The deck can play more than one land per turn thanks to Exploration and Manabond, so you can actually get ahead with your Strip Mine proxies. The format leans heavily towards Counterbalance ... which can't really deal with a relentless assault of Treetop Village and Mishra's Factory.

And it has a basically inexorable card-drawing engine in Life from the Loam.

Life from the Loam works here much as it does in Extended decks, Onslaught duals like Wooded Foothills plus Onslaught cycling cards like Tranquil Thicket, and it's doubly effective here due to the ability to play more lands while drawing lands and sometimes spells. Typically playing Gamble—especially for a key card like Life from the Loam—is a gamble ... but since your hand will be mostly lands (which can be recouped with Life from the Loam if you are forced to discard it) or Life from the Loam itself (which doesn't care if it is in the graveyard) there is little down side.

So how effective can a deck that is more than two-thirds lands actually be?

Maze of Ith is a pretty good solution to a single Tarmogoyf or Phyrexian Dreadnought, but not necessarily to a Nimble Mongoose. The card advantage is undeniable, but might be dicey against a Counterbalance deck with another Counterbalance on top. The really difficult proposition is not a creature or a control deck, I think, so much as a combo deck like Ad Nauseum. Decks like this one typically have problems they can't say "no" to ... and Ad Nauseum presents those kinds of problems.

Combo

Kolowith's deck was the most successful combination deck of the Grand Prix. It works in much the same way that the Storm decks you are probably more familiar with work: that is, it plays lots of spells (probably mana acceleration to start) into a big finale. In this deck, the kill card (main-deck) is Tendrils of Agony. So it's all about cheap manipulation and mana access until that Tendrils (which is hopefully inexorable thanks to the storm mechanic). The special thing about this deck is Ad Nauseum.

Look at the mana costs ...

Brainstorm is one.

Burning Wish is two.

Cabal Ritual is two.

Chrome Mox, Lion's Eye Diamond, and Lotus Petal are nothing at all.

So there is relatively little down side to drawing lots of cards with Ad Nauseum; you can probably get away with more than ten, depending on the opponent's clock.

Beatdown

Brian Six's Naya Aggro
Legacy, Grand Prix-Chicago 2009

Six's deck is halfway between an improved Red Deck Wins and a modern Naya Burn. The creatures (beyond the excellent onetime staple Grim Lavamancer) are exactly what you might see in one of this weekend's PTQ Top 8s. The spells, though ... The spells are just the best stuff ever, spanning the full breadth of Magic's many sets. From Alpha there is Lightning Bolt, LegendsChain Lightning, VisionsFireblast ... all the way to cards from the last few years' blocks such as Magma Jet, Lightning Helix, and Rift Bolt. The really cool, special, and devastating burn spell, though, is Price of Progress.


Named in honor of the Pro Tour's most celebrated practitioner of red beatdown decks, Price of Progress is that special something tailored perfectly to the Legacy metagame. Let me explain .... Just going over the Grand Prix–Chicago Top 8 we see a total of 30 basic lands between the eight decks ... and more than a third of them are in a single All-In Red deck. That means that most of these guys are going to be taking 4, 6, or even more damage from a Price of Progress ... for just two mana! You don't need a lot of beatdown to drop an opponent with that kind of finishing reach. Not when you can speed it up while cutting your losses with a Fireblast.

Boat Brew

Just kidding!

What is not a joke is the recent performance of failed retiree Brian Kowal.

The former Righteous Babe "quit Magic" a few months ago before accidentally winning a PTQ and inventing the über-popular Boat Brew / Red-White Vengeant Reveillark deck on the way to qualifying for the Game in the Gulf. From there it took no less than eventual Pro Tour Champion Gabriel Nassif to hand Kowal so much as a Constructed match loss on the Pro Tour, barely keeping him out of the Top 8.

And now, even with another Nassif win, even Gab couldn't keep Brian from shining. Just a week after his first individual Pro Tour Day Two, Kowal finally made his big break, the elimination rounds on the Sunday stage.

Brian Kowal's Black-Green-White
Legacy, Grand Prix-Chicago 2009

Main Deck

60 cards

Bayou
Bloodstained Mire
Plains
Scrubland
Swamp
Wasteland
Windswept Heath

22 lands

Dark Confidant
Mesmeric Fiend
Tarmogoyf
Tombstalker

15 creatures

Dark Ritual
Hymn to Tourach
Sensei's Divining Top
Swords to Plowshares
Thoughtseize
Vindicate

23 other spells

Sideboard
Duress
Engineered Plague
Extirpate
Pernicious Deed

15 sideboard cards


Paul Rietzl's Black-Green
Legacy, Grand Prix-Chicago 2009

Paul Rietzl played a similar strategy to make Top 8.

Both decks top up on Tombstalker as a Tarmogoyf-costed / Tarmogoyf-level threat ... that is almost impossible to Counterbalance due to its printed mana cost. But that's not what is sexy about these decks. Sometimes people wonder why Hypnotic Specter doesn't see more play. Wasn't it once the scourge of all things Constructed? Wasn't Lord Hypno held in check only by the bygone Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares?

Certain members of Magic development always maintained that, while powerful, Hypnotic Specter is not and never was actually "broken"—it was Dark Ritual that was the problem, that caused all those problems and frowny faces thirteen years ago.

Well guess what you get to play in Legacy?

Like we said at the top of the article: Legacy's allure is largely based on being able to play a wide palette of cards that haven't been legal for ten years. Hypnotic Specter on the first turn hasn't gotten any friendlier in 2009, it seems. Both decks bolstered with second-turn Hymn to Tourach.

Fun!

Depending on which side of the table you are sitting on, that is.

Counterbalance-Top

The onetime scourge of Extended returns to win yet another Legacy Grand Prix. The strategy: Counterbalance + Sensei's Divining Top.

I guess that's what happens when you combine arguably the strongest active player with the consensus best strategy: another big tournament win.

By now we all know the synergies.

Dark Confidant + Sensei's Divining Top .... No damage from Bobby, a constant stream of new cards.

Ponder, Brainstorm, and Sensei's Divining Top + Counterbalance ... The first set of cards tell you what is going to be on top; the other half of that plus sign ruins the opponent's day when you can match mana costs. The really tricky players run the first-turn Ponder or Brainstorm, then tap for the Counterbalance and look all innocent when the opponent's spell gets countered. "Guess I was just lucky."

The cool feature of this deck is that Trygon Predator. Trygon Predator is a three-mana spell, and therefore not automatically so easy to counter with Counterbalance. Once it is in play, Nassif would have a recurring source of Counterbalance or Umezawa's Jitte suppression.

And as for the 15 one-ofs in the sideboard? I have nothing to say about those beyond the jaw dropping admiration you already had yourself.

The next biggest winner in the tournament (and a guy who probably did more actual winning, having taken down Trial #6) was Andy "Brassman" Probasco.

Andy Probasco's Counterbalance-Top
Legacy, Grand Prix-Chicago 2009

Andy's deck had much of the force as Gab's being a Counterbalance control deck, but was set up more for winning the mirror. I direct you to two-and-a-half different three mana spells:


Krosan Grip : Kills Sensei's Divining Top dead.

Trinket Mage : Not only does it help set up your own Sensei's Divining Top, but this hard-working three-drop gets ...

Engineered Explosives : You can put two colors into this for sunburst but pay a non-two amount of mana (such as three, as we've intimated). Why might you do this? So that you can pop an opposing Counterbalance while reducing the likelihood of being Counterbalanced, of course! Between the Trinket Mages and Andy's Academy Ruins, you've got all the Explosives a girl could ask for.

Threshold

A modern update to a Legacy favorite. Great guys. Great manipulation. Counterspells to hold the lead.

David Caplan's Threshold
Legacy, Grand Prix-Chicago 2009

Dragon-Stompy

James Mink's Dragon Stompy
Legacy, Grand Prix-Chicago 2009

Cool here is the ability to use your own Blood Moon. Sure, it's bonzer to play a first turn something awesome with your City of Traitors ... What's even cooler is following up with a Blood Moon so that when you play your next land your City doesn't die.


Meanwhile, in Extended

Okay. Enough of the Legacy for now. There is a PTQ season going on!

Here are a couple of decks from a recent Edison, NJ PTQ where two good friends battled it out in the tournament final for the Blue Envelope. Josh Ravitz was the villain of the story, packing Black-Blue Faerie Wizards:

Josh Ravitz's Blue-Black Faerie Wizards
Extended - 2nd place, PTQ-Honolulu - Edison, NJ

Josh's deck was superb.

He beat almost every kind of deck over the course of the day, up until his nightmare match in the finals. Josh was particularly adept in the Faeries mirror, bringing in Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir to lock out the game.

Josh's deck features a number of cards that should be staple in a Faeries-style deck if you want to be successful at this stage of the PTQ season. First of all there are lots of Riptide Laboratories in this deck; I actually think that four copies is probably right due to being so important in the mirror match. In particular, Riptide Laboratory can suppress the effectiveness of Sower of Temptation, which can potentially produce large swings in board position (imagine the nightmare of having Teferi wiggle over to the other side). Previously we thought of Storm as being a difficult deck for Faeries to beat, but between 4 Thoughtseize and 4 Vendilion Clique, that kind of a combo deck is pretty manageable. The Edison PTQ was a week where we predicted heavy Affinity activity, which explains Josh's many Hurkyl's Recalls in the side. I don't know that he would repeat those given the lower Affinity tenor of recent Top 8s.


We cast Josh as the bad guy because Faerie Wizards has been leading recent Top 8s in deck popularity, and pocketing about 50% of the recent Blue Envelopes. The Edison Top 8 featured a couple of off-center decks that happen to be great agaisnt the Fae.

Corey Mann's Kithkin
Extended - 4th place, PTQ-Honolulu - Edison, NJ

If you don't recognize Corey's name ... the man loves a Kithkin. He made something like five of six Block PTQ Top 8s over the summer—and won the Philly $5,000—all with Kithkin. Unbelievably, Corey sleeved up Wizened Cenn for Extended and ran through the Swiss fairly effortlessly.


Zoo? He met that kind of deck with first-turn Burrenton Forge-Tender, followed up with a Jitte.

Affinity? I didn't personally see this, but rumor had it that his Spectral Procession powered out a Fracturing Gust that was hiding under a Windbrisk Heights.

We know from All-In Red testing that Umezawa's Jitte can dominate many opponents sticking on any random 1/1. But Corey's deck has a special creature that might seem a little out of place (but he assures us is quite awesome): Cloudgoat Ranger!

Chuckling?

Why?

Cloudgoat Ranger is a definingly awesome threat in the Standard version of this deck. Why not the Extended? As he explains it, the Faeries decks don't actually have a whole lot of ways to contain a Cloudgoat Ranger. Think about it ... Josh's deck has what? Two Cryptic Commands? Most have nada. You tap for it, and the Ranger will often stick. And then what are they going to do?

With Path to Exile as an available four-of to shore up what was once Kithkin's only real weakness (no available and affordable point removal), Kithkin has become a much more versatile choice for basically the most diverse metagame in recent memory.

And just how diverse? Diverse enough that Osyp Lebedowicz finally got to play his pet deck again ... and it was good.

If you want to beat Faeries (and you probably want to if you are looking to win a PTQ)... This is a superb option. The card advantage available to this deck is equal to anything that Faeries can muster. The enchantments here are simply unstoppable for any deck that plans to win with any kind of an attack. Even tapped out the Slide deck can defend itself.

Imagine this scenario: You are playing Faeries. Your opponent runs out a Cloudthresher at the end of your second main phase. It is going to kill one Spellstutter Sprite if you let it stick. But he paid only four mana (tapped out) .... Seems like a bit of a waste of a Mana Leak if you fight it. Are you going to fight it? You had better! Because if you don't, don't be surprised if the opponent sacrifices Flagstones of Trokair after you are out of your Counterspell window and Slides out the 'Thresher with Edge of Autumn.


I would caution you a little bit if you don't have any Extended Slide testing under your belt: It is not whatsoever intuitive to play. The mana is difficult to manage and your best action often includes pointing Ghost Quarter at your own non-Flagstones of Trokair lands. But if you're good, it's fun to play and rewarding...

...As long as you don't get paired up against combo. Because you can't beat a Storm deck.

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