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This Week in Legacy: Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe Are Banned - Part 1


Welcome to a big This Week in Legacy! There’s been some obviously dramatic news shaking up the entire Legacy format. Today will be Part 1 of my look into where I expect the metagame to be heading in the wake of the Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe bans, particularly looking at where the fair decks of the format will be going. Next week, I’ll dive into what the prominent unfair decks will be. There’s a bunch to jump into, but first let’s look at the rationale behind these bannings. You can find those here from Wizards.

Firstly, the banning a little more expected: Deathrite Shaman.

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Many had been calling for the death of the Elf Shaman in the last year, with complaints of it homogenising the color pie, leading to four-color good stuff monstrosities like Czech Pile that seem impossible to create in any other format, and its incidental oppression of many strategies – be it due to him attacking graveyards, shutting down reanimation, hampering mana denial strategies or just being a frustrating 1/2 body. I can certainly see a greater diversity of strategies coming to the fore with Deathrite’s banning, and many decks will now have careful deck building decisions to make, rather than shoving four Deathrites in their BUG/Grixis/4c shell.

To play Devil’s advocate somewhat (believe me, I am actually quite happy to see the format shaken up), Deathrite Shaman did however enable players to cast their cards. By giving many decks access to acceleration, mana denial strategies (like Death & Taxes, Lands, Stifle-based Delver, etc.) were less effective and fewer players experienced the “I have no mana, and cannot play Magic” feeling that many an individual who has been Wastelanded out feels. I can imagine in the format moving forward, there is a going to be quite a bit more of that, and for many Legacy players that is unpleasant. That being said, the lack of Deathrite instead now forces players to carefully consider their mana base, which I think is overall a positive constraint players will now need to keep in mind.

The other interesting aspect is incidental graveyard hate no longer being in players’ main deck. There is therefore likely to be a renaissance of slower graveyard-based strategies, such as old Blue-Black Reanimator (who fell to the wayside due to its Black-Red brethren beating Deathrite by pure speed), or even interesting fair strategies that were unviable because Deathrite held them back (something like Zombardment comes to mind). I also expect heavier graveyard hate, such as Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void, to be packed in people’s sideboard more than the past. Just Surgicals in the sideboard won’t cut it if you no longer have incidental hate in your main deck.

Next, the banning a little unexpected: Gitaxian Probe.

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Probe has always been on Wizard’s radar not because of its power, but honestly because it is an utterly flawed card by design that I imagine they wish they never created it. And so now the design mistake of Probe is restricted across all of Magic’s formats. I think the Banned & Restricted Announcement speaks best why it should be banned, in Wizard’s mind:

Because of the negative influence Gitaxian Probe has on gameplay as a free spell and low-cost information advantage, we prefer to remove it from the format rather than needing to weaken the strategies it facilitates in other ways.

I disagree somewhat on the ‘freeness’ of Probe (there is certainly deck building constraints that Probe leads to by having it in your deck), but I really do like Wizard’s rationale on how Probe affects the gameplay of the Legacy format in general. Legacy is a format where some of the strongest instants are printed, and as a result unknown information is a huge factor. Probe eliminating that dimension of the format really is a feel bad everyone has experienced already, at too small a cost. A few cards significantly get affected by the Probe ban (Cabal Therapy and Young Pyromancer, in particular, are much weaker), but not so dramatically that they are neutered (if anything, Therapy needs to be cast ‘skillfully’ now).

Storm will need to carefully recalibrate where it is headed now (I imagine we will be seeing more Duress or some Thoughtseize incorporated), but I expect it to shrug this off and still be an excellent tier contender. Pyromancer will probably be homeless for a little bit of time, but I’m sure he’ll also find a worthwhile shell.

Now, let’s go deeper on to the format expectations!

What Happens to Delver?

Is what I posted on the day of banning in my local Legacy group. Because yes.

RUG Delver is back in a big way.

RUG Delver was held back incredibly by Deathrite Shaman. Being the Delver deck most focussed on mana denial, Deathrite’s ability to accelerate the opponent made Stifle and Wasteland for naught. Not only that, but RUG’s premier threat, Nimble Mongoose, matched up incredibly poorly with a turn one Deathrite. Not only did the Deathrite rip apart the RUG player’s graveyard, preventing Threshold from being reached, but its 1/2 body made Mongoose unable to attack! With Deathrite gone, the Goose is truly loose.

RUG has a few other things going for it compared to other Delver variants. Without Deathrite in the format, many color combinations are lacking an effective one-mana creature to partner with Delver, leading to a clunky curve that makes holding up Stifle and other soft counters a little more difficult. This forces these decks to gravitate more towards midrangier variants such as classic Team America with Hymn to Tourach and Jeskai Delver with Stoneforge Mystic (we’ll get to those in a moment). RUG Delver is therefore the premier choice for a lean, mean pure tempo machine. Let’s dive into some lists:

This to me is the ultimate baseline RUG list. It’s every tempo player’s dream come true. There are obviously some numbers which can flex around a bit (the third Snare, which I think is likely great moving forward, can range from spicier options like Counterspell to the fourth Goyf, and Dismember could become Tarfire and co. if Angler/Eldrazi are a big issue). Note that Goyf is back in a big way, as I expect BUG shells to still be unsure on how to move forward and Fatal Pushless prominent. The sideboard gets to play the classic Winter Orb with no fear, as previously Kommand made it a bit of an ambitious play against the premier control deck, but now Orbing Miracles and Stoneblade should be one of the more powerful plays the deck has post-board. Note that I’ve amped up the graveyard hate to three from my usual two, as RUG has been typically soft to reanimation strategies, particularly if they’re not prone to countermagic (e.g. Dredge). Submerge has also joined the fore once again to fight the mirror!

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My own personal version, however, is a little crazier:

This reinvigorates a lot of old technology from previous lists, but how this differentiates itself from Goyf versions is that its shell of only one-mana threats makes holding up countermagic against combo a lot easier. It may also make the Delver mirror easier, because being able to more effectively play your Goyf equivalent through Daze is great, as is being able to hold up Stifle or Snare for opposing Goyfs. Main deck Loam is also something to help out. Of course, going full shroud is still epic, but likely unnecessary now that the best Fatal Push deck is gone and many control strategies will be using Plow, which doesn’t care if you’re on Goyfs or Drills. This loses a lot of points against Stompy decks too, where being able to slam giant idiots on turn two fast is very important.

There are tons of resources for those transitioning to the classic tempo machine. Jonathan Alexander’s 2016 Canadian Threshold primer, my #RUGLyf primer (find Part 1-4 here and Part 5 on MTGGoldfish here) are great places to start, and the RUG Delver Discord is a hive of activity and discussion. Also head to, as always, The Source Canadian Threshold thread. Happy Mongoosing, everyone!

Let’s look at where else Delver may find himself… The BUG shell, even without Deathrite, is still very powerful and although there will be no more busted Deathrite starts, classic Team America definitely has a lot going for it. Friend Steven Stampoulos is looking to this Dan Signorini-inspired monster as his Delver deck of choice:

I think a lot of the numbers will still need to be ironed out, especially since without Deathrite there is a lack of proactive one-mana plays (perhaps Thoughtseize and Fatal Push need to have their numbers increased). Note the lack now of three mana spells Liliana of the Veil or Liliana, the Last Hope to accelerate into too. The threat base looks monstrous though – seven flying threats and the huge Goyf to truck on in after the opponent’s hand has been massacred.

I think another way to take the BUG shell is to look to something like Dark Threshold again. Replacing RUG Delver’s Bolts with Push and Abrupt Decay can break apart the mirror, where Goyf is one of the biggest problems. However, removing the reach Bolt provides is a bit of a liability against combo. Having discard in the sideboard is certainly helpful though. I’d also like to find a place for Gurmag Angler, though partnering him with Goose may be a bit of a stretch (Delve 6 is quite different to Mandrill’s Delve 5…).

But what about Grixis Delver? Is there any place for Delver alongside Gurmag Angler moving forward, especially without the graveyard-filling of Probe? Is Pyromancer even any good? I think there is two answers to these questions.

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Firstly, Gurmag Angler’s logical home to me in the Grixis color combination. As mentioned before, the Grixis color combination is severely lacking in playable one drops in a tempo shell without Deathrite. But we can look to Modern for a bit of inspiration:

Without Gitaxian Probe, Thoughtseize is now a must-include in the deck, which pushes this deck into a more proactive Delver deck (rather than a reactive Stifle-based one like RUG). It also must rely on Street Wraith to fuel Shadow (and Angler). Nonetheless, I think this is a great shell for Grixis Delver moving forward, though it certainly will need to tread carefully against Swords to Plowshares decks which can nuke an entire board of Shadows in one fell swoop. There’s ton of disruption to weave around that though. Note the sideboard as well – Grixis colors have had a hell of a sideboard, with powerful grind cards, sweepers and Pyroblast all rolled into one. This list can also very easily pivot into a BUG shell too, replacing Temur Battle Rage with Berserk and adding cards like Sylvan Library which synergize very effectively with Shadow.

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Pyromancer I think may find his home best in a Blue-Red Delver deck:

This should look pretty reminiscent of the Japanese Blue-Red Delver lists that were floating around, except without Probe, which honestly makes little difference to this shell. Note that Grim Lavamancer is a neat card for Red-based Delver shells that aren’t abusing any Delve creatures like this one. Cryptic Serpent and Bedlam Reveler are also late-game options over True-Name here who are somewhat castable with some finesse in Lavamancer activations (though maybe they’re just too awkward). I think the big boon of this style of Blue-Red Delver is actually the mana base – there is going to be a lot of Wastelands flying around, and this deck’s ability to fetch into basic Island and Mountain and operate solely off that is quite impressive, giving it a bit of an edge in Delver pseudo-mirrors.

Of course, the other avenue to take Blue-Red Delver is the Monastery Swiftspear and Stormchaser Mage variant, who should also be able to happily exist despite Probe’s banning. Add a few more cantrips and I’m sure the “Blue Burn” shell will still be good to go.

That’s enough Delver talk, what about other fair decks?

What Happens to Blue Midrange and Control?

The Level 1 Blue control deck will definitely be Miracles.

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If anything, Miracles will likely sit alongside RUG as the premier Day 1 Blue fair options. Its weathering the banning of Top and revitalizing itself for the new era will certainly be paying off in the new metagame, with none of its shell affected at all. I expect Miracles players to now adapt their list to the new threats of the metagame, in particular RUG Delver. I expect more ‘lights out’ cards like Counterbalance that RUG struggles with over Back to Basics and more sideboard answers to RUG’s sideboard haymakers like Sylvan Library and Winter Orb. Engineered Explosives is a good one if you can dodge it around Stifle, sweeping away Mongoose for good and also answering problematic permanents.

Asking dear friend Melbourne Miracle maestro Stephen Tang for his input on a list to start with, he graciously gave me this:

To quote:

Counterbalance will take us into the new world.

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I truly do agree. It is a multi-pronged monster against all of the expected decks that are going to boil to the top Day 1. RUG Delver can give Miracles a headache with its shroud threats, but not when a Counterbalance comes down on turn two and a counterwar is won over it. It very quickly takes over the game, even if it only blind flips a couple of times, because it generates card advantage that pulls Miracles far ahead. Note that Stephen has opted out of recent innovations like Search for Azcanta and Back to Basics due to these being more metagame considerations, and instead has utilized blanket answers and card advantage engines like Counterspell and Predict. The basic Mountain is also important to utilize Blast effects against RUG Delver’s mana denial.

I personally may be more of a Mentor man, especially with Counterbalance to defend him and the list I’d take looks a bit like this:

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This insulates you somewhat from the ‘get derped out by random Stompy decks in the new meta’ by having the Mentor kill switch, while still keeping the mentality of Counterbalance being key to success moving forward. But this list is really just throwing ideas on to the wall. I’d look to people with greater expertise than myself for a truly honed list.

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Two cards from Czech Pile are now also homeless. Kolaghan's Command and Leovold, Emissary of Trest. I expect both of these cards to find homes in Grixis Control and BUG Control respectively, though what each of these look like without Deathrite Shaman is quite the question. I think Baleful Strix and Snapcaster will certainly be pivotal pieces of the Grixis deck to abuse Kommand best, while the BUG shell may look to good ol’ Shardless BUG for some inspiration, perhaps keeping the aggression of Goyf now that Push is on the downswing. I think the main issue these decks will have is a critical density of turn one plays, along with issues in getting to cast their haymaker three drops. I think Thoughtseize is going to be key to strip away any Stifles that could cause issues in developing mana, and maybe even more one mana discard in the form of Inquisition of Kozilek could be utilized. Noble Hierarch could also be a consideration, or even a Green Sun's Zenith BUG deck abusing Leovold could come to the fore (I actually really like the sound of this as the Day 1 Leovold shell). Perhaps something like this…

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The other big benefactor of Deathrite’s banning is Stoneforge Mystic. With Kommand without a home for now, the Squire that could is definitely ready to join the battle again and actually be a relevant threat. Jeskai Stoneblade, Esper Stoneblade, pure Blue-White Stoneblade and even Owen Turtenwald-style Jeskai Delver I all expect to make a resurgence, and these decks I absolutely adore having in any metagame again to “go a bit bigger” than the smaller Delver decks. Swords to Plowshares is also still a hell of a removal spell, and although these Blade decks will certainly have issues against “bigger brother” Miracles, they will definitely nestle into a solid spot in the metagame.

What Happens to Non-Blue Fair Decks?

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Thalia, Aether Vial and friends are back in a big way. Not only is Stoneforge good again, but so is Vial, now less prone to getting blown up. Deathrite Shaman also made Death & Taxes’ mana denial plan less effective, but that is an issue no longer. Now Death & Taxes is free to use all the new toys it has been given, and I expect the deck to once again rise to the top of all the fair non-Blue decks. There is a multitude of options now, including the newly-printed Brightling, which has been impressive to many, the soon-to-be printed Remorseful Cleric, which is going to be a huge boon in an expected metagame of more-prominent Reanimator and co., along with Prelate, Recruiter and others. Rejoice Death & Taxes. Your deck is not just good again, it is great again.

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The other deck that will also similarly find renewed strength is Maverick. Already seen as a solid alternative to Death & Taxes prior to Deathrite’s banning (but it did, of course, utilize Deathrite itself), Maverick was the natural predator to RUG Delver in 2011, and Knight of the Reliquary is going to be a monster once more without Deathrite shrinking it. How Maverick will be built moving forward should be interesting. Is pure Green-White the best option? Is the Black splash still reasonable for sideboard discard and Zealous Persecution? Is Punishing Maverick the fair punisher we’re looking for? I think a lot of tinkering and time will tell for this one.

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There is another deck that also gets a huge boost from Deathrite being dead. Finally, finally, finally. This guy is threatening once more, with no pesky 1/2 blocking his way.

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Although Goblins will always suffer against combo, its ability to demolish fair decks may actually be relevant, with strong matchups like RUG Delver and Miracles now expected to be at the fore of the format. Its issues against Blade decks also can be remedied with the new Goblin Trashmaster, and Goblin Chainwhirler is also a surprisingly relevant new addition which gives a lot of help against the Death & Taxes and other small creature matchups.

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There is one man I know who is happy, and that is my Salt Mine brother Steven Stamopoulos. I know he’ll be putting down his Delvers, slamming some Goblin Lackey.

Steve has opted to splash into Green for Tin Street Hooligan so that there is a little less pressure in the early game to answer a Jitte, and then Trashmaster can effectively lock out any of Death & Taxes’ equipment end games that they typically win with. I think that a purely mono-Red list is also totally viable though, and having a fetch-less mana base is excellent with Stifle back on the menu.

That sideboard though… With half of it combo hatred, Goblins has to be well aware that it’s signing up for a bad day if everyone brings Griselbrand to the party…

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Conclusion

Speaking of Griselbrand, join me next time when we venture into the combo decks of the new format that I expect to rise to the top. For now though, here’s a bit of content from around the internet to look at as we explore the new format:

Whew! That’s quite a bit of stuff. If you have questions, queries or think I’ve missed something, feel free to contact me.

Sean Brown

Email: sean_brown156@hotmail.com
Reddit: ChemicalBurns156
Twitter: @Sean_Brown156

What I’m Playing This Week

This next list I’d like to highlight as another interesting option in Miracles.

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Teferi, Hero of Dominaria has made waves in Modern as better than Jace, and although in Legacy I feel he definitely will not reach a similar point, to supplement the Mind Sculptor, Teferi is proving himself a viable choice. Miracles player in Melbourne Michael Billinghurst brought a Teferi-touting list to our recent Legacy Masters event, and you can see on camera how powerful its tuck ability is (and me being utterly astonished at that being something Teferi can do)!

You can find more of the Legacy Masters coverage at the TCM YouTube channel!

The Spice Corner

M19 brought some additions to a few tribes, like the new Elvish lord, along with neat additions to Merfolk in the form of Mistbinder. But what about Spirits?! Yes, Spirits. It now has a critical density of lords thanks to the printing of Supreme Phantom, not to mention Drogskol Captain is quite a premier lord ala Sliver’s Crystalline Sliver!

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Check out the list from Kaono that he’s  been brewing on The Source:


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