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This Week in Legacy: Combo Breaker!


Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of This Week in Legacy! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to be digging into the concepts of Combo in Legacy, and how Combo decks function in the format. The major concepts of this article came largely from my good friend Ian of The Dead Format from a recent episode where he and Alex McKinley talked about some of the concepts of combo. This episode is absolutely worth a listen, so go check it out.

Also, I was on a podcast recently as well! I was on Leaving a Legacy, joining Pat and Jerry for a bit of chatter on the nature of this column and my experience with Legacy! Check that out here!

In addition, we have a Format Showcase Challenge to talk about from this weekend, as well as another deck focus in Mono Red Prison! As always we have the Spice Corner and another Level Up Lesson on Trigger Management.

Without further ado, let's jump right in!

C-C-C-Combo!

When it comes to thinking about the concepts of Combo in Legacy, most people naturally gravitate towards one of the games most eponymous keywords associated with combo: Storm. Since the original printings of the keyword, the Storm mechanic has become synonymous with Combo. However, there is more to Combo than just Storm based decks, as we are going to discuss. In fact, there are two big distinct schools of Combo within the Legacy format. Let's take a look at the first one now.

A + B Combo

The first type of Combo decks in Legacy is what is typically referred to as "A + B Combo". The idea behind this kind of deck is that it typically requires one piece (Piece A) and another piece (Piece B) together in order to either combo off or win the game. The best example of this, and one of the premier versions of an A+B Combo deck in Legacy, is of course, Show and Tell based decks.

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Decks that utilize Show and Tell are classified as an A+B Combo deck in that the deck needs A:Show and Tell and B: a permanent to abuse with it, which is either Griselbrand, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or Omniscience. While the specific natures of A+B are open to multiple combinations (as in the case with Show and Tell) the deck needs those specific pieces in order to combo, so the deck's construction overall is skewed towards locating those pieces. Show and Tell decks run a manner of accelerative mana with Lotus Petal and Ancient Tomb as well as a large number of cantrips to ensure it finds its pieces in time. In addition, the deck runs another A+B setup with Sneak Attack as a backup A+B plan. It also seeks to protect its combo via countermagic.

Another common example of A+B combo is Reanimator.

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Reanimator's combo plan is closer to an A+B+C plan than strictly A+B, since the deck needs A: a way to get a creature into the graveyard, B: a reanimation spell, and C: the creature to stay in the graveyard long enough to be reanimated. Reanimator makes up for this by sheer redundancy in its effects, ensuring it can piece together a reanimation target with any number of cards. This deck protects its combo via discard effects and triggered abilities such as Chancellor of the Annex.

At the current forefront of the format is the deck Jeskai Breach, which despite having a card with the Storm mechanic in it is not actually a Storm deck at all. Breach is actually an A+B combo deck.

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What makes this deck an A+B combo deck is the fact that it requires specific cards in order to perform the combo, namely Underworld Breach, Brain Freeze, and Lion's Eye Diamond. The deck needs to have these pieces in order to perform its combo, which makes it more akin to Show and Tell based decks than it does Storm decks. This deck can protect its combo with a variety of options from Silence-based effects like Orim's Chant and countermagic.

One of the big defining traits of A+B combo decks is the need to protect the combo. If left undisrupted this deck would likely locate its pieces and combo off easily every game, but the rest of the format is filled with ways of disrupting it. Attacking one or more pieces of the A+B combo deck is one of the ways to stop them from executing the combo and potentially winning the game. For example, Surgical Extraction on a Griselbrand in response to a Reanimation spell can put the opponent on the back foot, likely preventing them from having enough resources to find another threat to win with before they are either buried in virtual card advantage or simply just dead to another piece of graveyard hate. Occasionally decks like these require pretty narrow answers in the sideboard to deal with and can be fought in a myriad of ways. Decks like Show and Tell are generally better fought on the stack, utilizing cards like Flusterstorm or Veil of Summer to ensure opposing countermagic can't protect the combo. Some decks require both approaches, like the Jeskai Breach deck. Hard hate plus stack interaction can sometimes be needed to keep the opponent off of playing out their combo.

Engine Based Combo

The other form of combo in the format is known as "Engine" based combo. Engine combo decks often don't have a highly specific way of ending the game or combo'ing off like A+B combo decks do, but often function around a built around a structure of redundant cards that can follow a line to a win. One of the greatest examples of an engine based combo deck in Legacy are the Storm variants.

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Decks like The EPIC Storm don't need a specific sequence of specific cards to win a game, they can do so off the back of the strength of each individual card in the deck and the redundant effects provided throughout the list. TES has a large amount of mana acceleration and protection, in addition to cantrips to string together cards into a win, but there is no specific line that comes up in every game. Every game is often a little bit different, with the combo pilot being forced to make a number of micro-decisions to string along into a bigger decision to eventually win the game.

Engine combo decks often tend to be much more difficult to pilot than A+B combo decks, due to the fact that the decks don't have a determinate, specific win condition to hunt for, and thus require a lot of critical thinking. That isn't to say that engine combo is better than A+B combo per se, because both are definitely difficult to master, but that engine combo does require a lot of math and critical thinking skills not present in a number of other decks.

Another example of a somewhat engine based combo deck is the deck Dredge.

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Dredge is a bit of hybrid combo deck since it can technically classify as a bit of a A+B deck, since it requires a way to get creatures with Dredge into the graveyard and payoffs for those, but its primary engine is the Dredge mechanic itself and every game can be a little bit different based on variance and other things going on it the game.

One final example of an Engine combo deck is one of Legacy's oldest strategies: Doomsday.

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Doomsday is a deck that requires a massive amount of memorization and critical thinking, since it has to string together lines in order to win a game and build the appropriate pile to the situation occurring within the game and the contents of their hand. This alone makes it one of the most difficult combo decks in the format to fully master in every way. Recent printings of Thassa's Oracle have helped the deck coalesce the piles to better ones, but there is still a measure of critical knowledge of the format needed in order to improvise and work on the fly.

Disrupting engine combo decks often tends to be a little more difficult than disrupting A+B combo decks, and that is because the decks do not need a specific set of cards to win the game. More often than not, these decks also require a number of different angled answers to beat or a good answer as a speed bump backed up by pressure. For example, Chalice of the Void on one counter can't easily disrupt a deck like TES because it doesn't prevent them from casting mana rocks and their tutors which all cost zero and two. Likewise, setting Chalice on zero counters can put them off of casting mana rocks, except when TES has Veil of Summer and then can cast whatever they need to win the game anyways. Generally the right approach to these kinds of matchups is to piece together what lines they might need to take to win the game, and then attempt to cut off those lines and then put pressure on them before they find another line to win. One of the best ways to figure out how to disrupt one of these kinds of decks is to actually play them and learn what is important to the deck yourself. This kind of experience can help you understand how best to approach fighting against these kinds of decks.

Level Up Lesson - Managing Your Triggers

Our Level Up Lesson this week is going to be on the concepts behind Trigger Management. There are a lot of triggers in the world of Legacy, and it's really important to remember what they all do, especially if you ever plan on playing at Competitive Rules Enforcement, but also because missing triggers can occasionally mess up things within the game, and having a good clean game experience is healthier overall for both players.

So, what are some common triggers in Legacy we need to talk about? Well, one of them is stapled to a pretty common blue one drop.

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One of the most important things to remember about Delver triggers is that if you're looking at the card, you're resolving the trigger. This means you can't do anything else to manipulate the top card of your library in order to flip your Delver if you are looking at your card. So, if you have a way to ensure the Delver flips, you can cast Brainstorm in response to the trigger in order to change the top card to something that will flip your Delver. Furthermore, if you happen to brick on your flip, you do not have to reveal the card you looked at. Delver's ability states "You may reveal that card" so if you don't hit an instant or sorcery card, you can just put the card back and not reveal what it was to your opponent. Finally, some people can forget that there is another round of priority after Delver's triggered ability resolves, so if the card you're drawing is something you don't want to draw and you have a fetch land up, you can then fetch and reset the card you'll draw for turn.

Another card that is often a source of problems is Chalice of the Void. Chalice, especially at Comp REL, presents a lot of challenges to learning Legacy players because it can often be very easy to forget the card is on the battlefield. I've seen this occur quite a bit, and it's just one of those things that is pretty easy to forget. Often what I like to do is to make sure the Chalice is within clear view so that I'm reminded of the card's presence in play, and not off to the side where it could easily be forgotten. Also, let is be known that at Comp REL, it is the responsibility of the player controlling the Chalice to remember the Chalice triggers. If you attempt to cast a spell into your own Chalice and conveniently "forget" the Chalice is there, that is cheating, so please don't do this! Furthermore if your opponent attempts to cast a spell into your Chalice, it is your responsibility at Comp REL to point out the Chalice trigger to your opponent. If you miss this trigger, your opponent is under no obligation to remind you of it. (For those unaware of how this works in Competitive Magic, Missed Trigger rules were updated in 2012 to make changes to how players interact with Missed Triggers). Furthermore, Chalice also tends to be weird when interacting with the Missed Trigger rules since often it is impossible to put the trigger on the stack if the trigger is remembered within the same turn, since rewinds are often impossible if too much has changed since the Missed Trigger. So in short, pay attention to your Chalices people! Now, there are some corner cases to cast spells intentionally into a Chalice, if you're trying to build up graveyard space for a Delve creature like Gurmag Angler or a cost reduction threat like Bedlam Reveler, or if you just happen to have a Veil of Summer effect in play.

Going off the back of Chalice triggers, it is also important to remember that you cannot intentionally miss triggers that you control. One common example of this is the card Dark Confidant. If you are in danger of dying to a Bob trigger (GREATNESS AT ANY COST), you are going to need to remove the card from play somehow before it triggers on your upkeep. If the card triggers on your upkeep and you remove it in response, the trigger still occurs. You'll still reveal a card and you'll still lose that life. You cannot miss this trigger. This is cheating if you do. Please do not do this!

In recent times there have been a few changes to the Missed Trigger rules, and these govern how certain triggers from cards like the Pact cycle and Prized Amalgam were dealt with at Comp REL. Prior to this update the default action of these cards were that if the trigger was missed, then the default action of the trigger took place (for the example of the Pact cycle, the opponent lost the game, Amalgam immediately returns, etc.). This changed to be put in line with how pretty much every other Missed Trigger is handled, by allowing the opponent the option of the trigger being placed on the stack to be resolved. One of the major Legacy cards that this effects is The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.

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Tabernacle is a strange card from a rules perspective. It grants a triggered ability to all creatures, including your opponent's creatures. What this ends up meaning from a rules perspective is that the triggers on your opponent's creatures are controlled by them, and thus their responsibility to acknowledge and resolve. Under the old rules if you missed this trigger on your opponent's Tabernacle, the default action took place and you'd lose your creature. This created a little bit of a feels bad if you were newer to the game and didn't quite understand how Tabernacle works (since the wording even in Oracle isn't excessively helpful to newer players to understand that the triggered ability is theirs to acknowledge). With the way the rules work now, the option is given to put the trigger on the stack, so that the player controlling the triggers has the option to pay. This has caused over time a bit of a debate over whether the older way was better or not, but frankly the sky hasn't fallen with this, so I'm inclined to believe that this rules update was for the best. In addition to this, there are also no warnings given to players who miss the trigger and weren't the owner of the Tabernacle, which is a massive improvement over the older rules where this would actually occur. Please note that again, you still can't intentionally miss your own Tabernacle triggers from the Tabernacle that you control in play, so please don't do that!

Trigger Management is one good way to really learn to level up your play in any format, but it is very important for Legacy. Using visual cues, or even just writing down what triggers apply to you on your notepad can be beneficial to remembering them. For instance, if your opponent has a Tabernacle, it can be prudent to take a quick jot down of notes to recognize the Tabernacle in play and what creatures it affects (really important especially if there is an Oko in play). When you refer to your notes and your life total, this can stand out and help you remember that it's there. Furthermore, even something as simple as a coin on top of your library can tell you that you have something to do in the Upkeep phase.

Community Legacy Update

Just a reminder to submit your Legacy events to Bolt the Bird! This is a great resource, and you should be using it to look up any Legacy events you might be wanting to go to!

Furthermore, if you are a TO or know someone, and you want to have me cover an event, please feel free to reach out to me via Twitter or Discord. I love working with TOs and the community!

Deck Focus - Blood Moon Rising

Mono-Red Prison is a deck that has been around the format for quite a long time, but has definitely evolved a lot over the years. Originally the deck was known as Dragon Stompy, utilizing the card Rakdos Pit Dragon as a curve topper and win condition to close out the game. Over time the deck has evolved into a more Prison-like deck that seeks to disrupt its opponent's game plans and then deploy threats to win the game.

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The current incarnations of this deck always start with the cards Ancient Tomb and Chalice of the Void, but then often extend into the typical staple cards of Blood Moon, Chrome Mox, and Simian Spirit Guide. The abject goal of this deck is to deploy a lock piece on Turn 1 that prevents the opponent from playing the game, and then follow up with low-cost game-ending threats.

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These threats can be powerful creatures such as Goblin Rabblemaster or Legion Warboss which can quickly snowball over a few turns into closing a game out entirely. Some versions of this deck will run cards like Ensnaring Bridge to function well with these cards (since a Rabblemaster can swing through with two cards in hand and still accrue the bonus it gets) and then some also play additional threats. Most common these days are cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Karn, the Great Creator as curve toppers. Karn alone is very powerful given that it can get what it needs out of the sideboard and can long term lock the game out with Mycosynth Lattice + Ensaring Bridge.

Another card that has made its way into this deck over time with the printing of Throne of Eldraine is the card Bonecrusher Giant. This card is intriguing since it represents a source of unpreventable damage to something, but also later turns into a 4/3 with upside. It has proven to be a powerful inclusion into this deck.

While many people often consider this deck to be "the Blood Moon deck", it is important to note that this deck does have a large measure of disruptive elements and can do well even in a format where cards like Arcum's Astrolabe allows for basic heavy decks to exist. Cards like early Trinisphere can be debilitating to the Astrolabe decks as they attempt to set up for the long haul and can't counter or deal with an early threat or Planeswalker that comes down. Karn especially is very strong against the Astrolabe decks since it shuts down their ability to filter mana. Furthermore, in post-board matchups against these decks, big threats like Chandra, Awakened Inferno can come in and deal with the decks that seek to delay the game and try to assume control over the matchup. Despite how Blood Moon may be positioned in the overall metagame right now, this is still an incredibly strong deck and is still putting up regular results. So if you might find you enjoy casting red spells and Chalices, this is a deck to look into. Now granted, this deck does play a few Reserved List cards like City of Traitors (which make up for a huge amount of the deck's cost), you can technically budget a little bit with Crystal Vein as a substitute.

Legacy Showcase Challenge 3/1

This weekend was the Legacy Showcase Challenge event. For those that are unaware what the difference between this and a regular Challenge event are is that these events cost Qualifier Points (QPs) to enter, which are only earned by doing well in Leagues and Preliminary events. Thus, the competition of these events tends to be pretty high. Without further ado, let's dive right into the results. Instead of just the Top 8, I'm going to put down the full Top 32, because I think the picture it paints is pretty interesting.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Jeskai Underworld Breach 1st WhiteFaces (Callum Smith)
Jeskai Underworld Breach 2nd IWouldLikeToRespond (Marcus Ewaldh)
Mono Red Prison 3rd Shadow_PT
U/B Shadow 4th Basic_Swamp
Jeskai Underworld Breach 5th ZioFrancone
Aggro-Loam 6th Frejat
U/R Delver 7th LearnToLove6 (Rich Cali)
R/G Lands 8th Urawik3
BUG Delver 9th BeeKeeper
R/G Lands 10th Alli
Jeskai Underworld Breach 11th DankConfidant (Chad Harney)
RUG Underworld Breach 12th The Atog Lord (Rich Shay)
U/G Omni-Tell 13th Yamaro
4C Snowko 14th PhillipPaut
Jeskai Underworld Breach 15th Maxtortion (Max Gilmore)
Doomsday 16th MonkeysCantCry
U/B Shadow 17th Ark4n
U/W Miracles 18th BrunoGuerra
LED Dredge 19th GutsMTG
Golos Post 20th MsSkinbolic
BUG Depths 21st Ak4suk1
R/G Lands 22nd F_Mexins
B/R Reanimator 23rd EronRelentless
Mono Blue Omni-Tell 24th -Jax-
BUG Delver 25th Aytor_92
U/B Shadow 26th TrueHero
Stryfo Pile 27th Pische10
Jund Hogaak 28th Acg88
Mono Red Prison 29th Muddy15
Maverick 30th Pohlman
Golos Post 31st MatthewFoulkes
Esper Vial Hatebears 32nd Jtl005

One very staggering thing to note about this challenge is the amount of Underworld Breach in it. 5/32 of the Top 32 decks were the Jeskai variant of the deck, with a RUG variant also appearing. Furthemore, the Jeskai variant converted three decks into the Top 8 of the event, with the finals being a Breach vs Breach finals. What does this say about the power level of Underworld Breach? For me, it says that this deck is probably one of the best decks in the format, and is about as close to playing Vintage in Legacy as you can get. Breach is an incredibly powerful card, and we're continuing to see refinement of the deck to answer any metagame response to it. I'm typically more of a "wait and see" type person, but I do think that eventually Underworld Breach will end up on the Banned List for Legacy. There is a Banned and Restricted List next Monday, so it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

Regardless of what happens in the future, at the end of this event, it was our good friend Callum Smith who took down the event, in a Breach vs Breach battle against Marcus Ewaldh, also on Breach. Congrats to both of them on their finish! Let's take a look at both their lists.

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Both of these lists are fairly close, with only minor changes in the sideboard slots. The main deck, however, is exactly identical. This is interesting and still pretty intriguing to see how these decks have continually evolved, no matter if they seem like they are overpowering the format.

In Third Place we have Shadow_PT on Mono Red Prison!

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We already talked about the good things about this deck, and this is just helping to hammer home that this strategy is pretty solid right now in the format. Congrats to Shadow_PT!

In Fourth Place we have U/B Shadow!

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Shadow is an interesting take on the Delver archetype, being afforded the ability to be one of the few decks in Legacy that wants to actually play Watery Grave with Daze. The only norm missing here from most Shadow lists is a singleton Reanimate for those games where cycle Street Wraith + Reanimate is pretty real, but that's fine to not have it as well. Drown in the Loch is also very powerful in this deck.

Moving down to Sixth Place (since we already looked at Breach) is Aggro-Loam! This is another deck that's doing very right now, and it has adopted new cards like Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath as well.

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Loam lists are generally super interesting to look at and this is no exception. I've mentioned before how these decks are now just dropping cards like Liliana of the Veil for Oko, Thief of Crowns and we see that here, with four copies of Oko and nary a Liliana to see.

In Seventh Place we have Rich Cali on U/R Delver!

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Delver is actually a strategy that can find great success against Breach, since the Breach decks often tend to be slower on average and Delver can try to capitalize on that with soft permission and a fast clock. U/R Delver gains the ability to back up its damage spells with countermagic and of course, Dreadhorde Arcanist.

Rounding out the Top 8 we have R/G Lands!

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You can definitely tell a Metagame skew when Lands is off Sphere effects in the sideboard entirely for Leylines, Mindbreak Trap, and Force of Vigor. There's not even Tireless Tracker's here!

Further down the Top 32, we have another entry in the Breach category by Rich Shay, this version in RUG instead of Jeskai, however the basics of the deck are the same.

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Now let's take a look at the 2020 Theros: Beyond Death cards appearing in this event. I'm willing to be that it's a lot of Underworld Breach!

Card Name Number of Copies
Underworld Breach 24
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath 6
Soul-Guide Lantern 3
Thassa's Oracle 2
Cling to Dust 1
Kunoros, Hound of Athreos 1
Ox of Agonas 1

Yup. With Six Breach decks overall in the Top 32, the number of Breach in this data was 24 copies with each deck playing four copies of the card. Pulling up in Second was Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, which is actually just one of the coolest cards and I'm glad to see it hitting Legacy well. There was also a showing of Ox of Agonas in the lone Dredge deck in the Top 32, which is great to see.

In the end, this was an eye=opening event, and I now begin to wonder how much longer we will have Underworld Breach in the format. Only time will tell what will happen. Regardless, we'll keep covering these events and seeing how the data falls!

Around the Web

The Spice Corner

This is a deck of Magic: The Gathering cards.

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This same MTGO user, xfile, hits us with another deck of Magic: The Gathering cards, this time very Rogue-themed.

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Oko + Standstill? Seems legit.

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What I'm Playing This Week

I'm still on the BUG Zenith Oko train again this week, looking forward to playing the deck at my local Legacy Bi-Weekly this Friday!

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thank you all for your continued support for this column and join me next week as we continue our journey into Legacy!

As always you can reach me on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! I'm also always around the MTGGoldfish Discord Server as well as the MTGLegacy Discord Server and Subreddit! I'm also running a contest to celebrate hitting 500 followers on Twitter of a custom wooden deckbox. You can check out the details of this and enter over here!



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