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This Week in Legacy: February Statistics and an Interview with Ethan Gaieski


Welcome to This Week in Legacy. This week we have February's statistics to look over, letting us get a handle on how the ship of Legacy is steering itself through the rocking waves and ripples in the post-Aether Revolt metagame. I'll also be interviewing Ethan Gaieski, streamer and brewer of Bant Thresh about his Legacy experiences and card choices within the new archetype.

Enjoy!

February Statistics

Let's have a look at the two charts, Online and Paper, for the month of February:

The Online metagame is starting to adapt much more readily than the less flexible Paper metagame, which has largely mired itself in the metagame just post-GP Louisville within February. It saw the rise of Storm once again and, with it, the rise in Eldrazi once more, with them being the second and fourth most popular decks.

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This was a predictable change - once the metagame is infested with decks trying to dork out True-Names as fast as possible, these decks need to be reminded that playing such fair Magic isn't always safe. Eldrazi Stompy, being the easiest counter to the Storm deck thanks to it being the default Chalice of the Void deck, has once again found its typical prey, though is likely to struggle against the variety of BUG variants currently in the format. These three decks make a nice "rock-paper-scissors" triangle, but, as we know, these three decks do not make up the entire metagame, nor are matchups so easy to simplify.

The other solid riser was Burn, which is a deck that also preys on slow grimdy midrange decks.

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True-Name Nemesis is much too slow against Price of Progress, particularly when many of these decks are countermagic light. I'd be ready to pack some Duresses as sideboard discard of choice in the coming weeks, which mitigates lifeloss quite nicely. I'd also like to see some Collective Brutality find their way into sideboards, or even main decks, of fair Black decks. It's great as a two-for-one against Burn, of course, but it is also just a generically powerful card in grindy matchups where it's easy to flood on lands. In a similar vein I would not be surprised to see UR Delver bounce back as another aggressive punisher of mana bases.

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A few archetypes thought of as "dead" due to the printing of Fatal Push also still hung around through February. The Czech 4c Control lists viability I'm not sure about anymore, with Push able to slot very conveniently into the Bolt slots and many of the BUG Control lists mentioned above essentially retain the same core but with a more robust mana base. Although Pyroblast is certainly a loss, Lightning Bolt is less-so, due to these decks not using it particularly for reach the majority of the time.

4c Delver, on the other hand, has not shown any signs of stopping, despite many naysaying its existence in a post-Push world. Although SCG Baltimore gave us takes on the deck, such as Dylan Donegan's that went straight BUG, ultimately Lightning Bolt has still proven itself to be worth the shaky mana in a shell such as this. With the large amount of removal spells in the deck (seven), it's very easy for the deck's combo matchups to suffer, especially with the decks clunky curve that can be slow out of the gates. Bolt, although not exceptional in these matchups, gives the deck Time Walks against combo that can make the difference between winning an losing game one. Not to mention the reach being much appreciated to swing races in True-Name mirrors.

Looking towards some other decks that got highlighted a little more than usual this month, let's start with the Blood Moon prison decks, who got a lot of love. Here's Mono-Red Sneak Attack:

R3incarna has gone on a solid run with this deck and has honed down the numbers to a threat suite that many in Paper and Online have followed. In particular a nice balance between uncastable threats (Griselbrand, Emrakul, Worldspine Wurm) and those that can be cast (Inferno Titan, Combustible Gearhulk) has been struck in his list. Things I am suprised at are the lack of Chandra, Torch of Defiance as ramp or an alternative win-con (admittedly, she's not that great when she's flipping over giant creatures that are often uncastable) and Batterhorn over Ingot Chewer. I guess Batterhorn batters better... Right?

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The Japanese Dragon Stompy lists have continued to up its numbers, and is looking like the second home of Chalice of the Void after Eldrazi Stompy. Although it does not have the powerful mana base of Eldrazi with up to sixteen Sol Lands, Dragon Stompy does get lock pieces that are much more crippling, and the threat suite of Sin Prodder, Chandra, and the burn-out plan with Fiery Confluence have done a lot to alleviate the variance issues the deck once had. The four-drop slot has been hotly contested recently, however, with Thunderbreak Regent recently looking more and more lacklustre with the value-oriented game plan; he is simply a big beatstick unlike Rabblemaster or Prodder, who create value. Pia and Kiran Nalaar helps by creating value and fliers, but slimming down the curve with Smuggler's Copter is what tapedecky did to a 5-0 success.

My only fear with a list like this is that there are only a few threats ready to Crew the Copter, though Rabblemaster certainly spews out more fresh bodies if needed.

Lotus Cobra got a lot of love too this February from Clone9.

White-Green 12Post featuring the Cobra. I've had the pleasure of fighting this Online and although Cobra looks "cute," the card is an incredible engine in a deck like this that doesn't want to dawdle while playing its tap-lands like Cloudpost. Not to mention the power of resolving a Primeval Titan and getting multiple triggers off Cobra. The snake can make things pretty wild. This list also includes a Zenith package to find Hierarch, Cobra, or Arbor when developing mana or Primeval Titan when finishing up the opponent. Utility three drops like Knight and Eternal Witness also nicely bridge the deck into the typical unbeatable 12Post endgame.

After slotting it in 12Post, Clone9 then apparently looked to another mana-intensive deck and gave it the cobra treatment.

True-Name BUG feat. Lotus Cobra and... Grave Titan?! This certainly allows the deck to increase its amount of ramp to push out Jace quicker and put a Grave Titan out to really crush fair matchups, but I'm sure the variance of having these huge, often uncastable cards in ones hand is not worth adding cobra. Not to mention Daze and Grave Titan in the same deck look incredibly bizarre.

Lastly, Niwa Hotaka is at it again brewing strange Blue-Red concoctions to Top 8 KMC tournaments in Japan. This time, he looked to new favourite Walking Ballista and its synergy with Trinket Mage instead of Thing in the Ice, and added the usual smattering of burn and counter spells.

The Trinket Mage package is actually quite comprehensive including flexible answers like Pithing Needle and Engineered Explosives, card filtration with Top and even threats in the form of Hangarback Walker or Walking Ballista. And Academy Ruins to buy these all back...this sounds especially gross as a way to grind through opposing removal. Get Hangarback killed and then get it back for even more tokens? Sure!

Interview with Ethan Gaieski

This week I got to get some words in with Ethan Gaieski, who, along with Alex J. Chen, stream Magic Online with some pretty exciting tempo brews in Legacy that they're finding highly effective. Find their stream at the Twitch channel alexjchen and find Ethan's updated Bant Threshold list below:

On to the interview!

Sean: What's your history with Magic Ethan and in particularly Legacy?

Ethan:
I was initially a casual player, but then decided to take the game more seriously as I grew out of my original LGS. I started going to Redcap's Corner in Philadelphia. At this point I primarily played Modern, but the stronger players at the store were Legacy specialists. Wanting to play against the best competition possible, I bought some Bayous which yielded Punishing Jund. That was my first foray into the format, but when Pod was banned in Modern I made the full conversion.

I moved to Japan at the end of 2015, and there had the privilege of playing Legacy daily at Hareruya. I have always liked playing fair Magic, so Delver was a natural fit for me. After messing around with Grixis and BUG, I decided to give RUG a try in 2016, so the deck was well past its prime. I was awed by its raw efficiency but I quickly moved on from RUG because of its vulnerability to Deathrite Shaman; I have thought a lot about how to port the deck to modern times, however. Most of my Legacy philosophy is derived from my recent experiences playing Ben Friedman's 4c Delver. There are a ton of issues with 4c Delver, but its has its appeal of grinding with the most value-oriented decks in the format while still being capable of a more classically "Delver" tempo gameplan.

Sean: Let's talk about how the deck came about. I'm sure Jonathan Alexander's Delverless Canadian Threshold was an influence, but what spurred you to move into White?

Ethan: The printing of Fatal Push changed everything. First of all, there was no longer a great reason to splash Lightning Bolt with BUG now having an equally efficient removal spell. But even more importantly, Fatal Push made it much harder for Delver decks to produce a stream of threats that ran the opponent out of removal. Having taken four Pro Points from GP Chiba and GP Louisville with 4c Delver, I did not foresee parting ways with the deck, but Fatal Push changed Legacy so much that I needed to adapt. Thinking back to my RUG Delver days and the postboard plan of blanking the opponent's removal by siding out Delver, I became intrigued by the idea of playing a creature suite resistant to Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay. Jonathan Alexander had the same reaction to Legacy's paradigm shift and invented Delverless RUG Thresh. We got in touch and I began experimenting with the deck. I found that the classic RUG issue of not being able to remove large creatures was exacerbated by not playing an aggressive and evasive threat in Delver of Secrets and for that reason, I began to experiment with White, because it provides the best unconditional removal in Legacy in Swords to Plowshares. Plow was especially appealing because one of the common reactions to Fatal Push was to play more Delve creatures.

Sean: What kind of playstyle would you say the deck encourages? It looks much more controlling than decks that typically run the Stifle/Wasteland/Daze core.

Ethan: The most common criticism of my deck is that Daze and Stifle are out of place. While these cards are traditionally employed by tempo decks, I think that they are much less binary. To me, bar none, the most important aspect of Legacy is efficient interaction in the early stages of the game. Stifle and Daze are not only good for mana screwing the opponent and killing them with a 3/2 before they can establish a footing in the game; Stifle and Daze are in my deck out of respect for the pure speed of the format. Most fair decks look to Deathrite Shaman for this effect, but because our goal is to blank the opponent's removal, we have to turn elsewhere, and Stifle has performed very well in the role. It is also just a generally well-positioned card at the moment; excellent against Shardless BUG, Miracles, Storm and there will almost always be fetchlands to target. Despite these cards, this is definitively a reactive control deck. Most games are won by disrupting the opponent's gameplan with a plethora of cheap interaction and then deploying a cheap, removal-resistant threat. Sparks fly on the early turns and our creature suite cleans up the mess while we continue to hold up mana for further interaction.

Sean: Let's go over some of the more unconventional main deck choices.

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Ethan: TNN is a remarkably powerful card and superficially seems to fit our Hexproof theme, but in practice it was way too much of a mana commitment. This deck wants to continue to hold up mana even after the dust of the first few bouts settles. TNN was causing a lot of awkward scenarios wherein I needed to choose whether to put my shields down and tap out, perhaps into an opposing Daze, or to wait for more mana so that I can deploy the threat while still holding up mana to interact. This was a really problematic lose-lose situation. The deck operates on three mana, so hitting additional land drops negates the virtual card advantage of being mana-lean, but tapping out is nearly suicidal.

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Thought Scour was a very important discovery. The first thing that people say is that Nimble Mongoose and Hooting Mandrills should not be in the same deck. There is undoubtedly tension here, but both cards are irreplaceable in this strategy so I had to make it work. Thought Scour is the oil that makes the machine run, and the deck often sputters without it. It's also very good with Snapcaster.

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Path to Exile is, by a lot, the worst card in the deck, but a necessary evil. White's removal is quite shallow beyond Swords, but the deck definitely needs more than four main deck removal spells, so I have to play Path. Obviously, giving the opponent a land seems terrible in a Stifle/Wasteland/Daze deck, but in practice this is only a major issue against Shardless BUG, because they have both a must-answer turn-one threat and basic lands. In general, though, the decks against which early removal is important are either already resistant to Daze and Stifle (for example, Death & Taxes and Elves), or do not play basic lands, such as the Delver decks. Again, it's an awkward inclusion, but contextually the card's drawback is rarely a big deal, and it is far superior to the alternatives. I tried every alternative from Dismember to Selesnya Charm, and they all had much more significant drawbacks.

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Snapcaster Mage is probably the most important card in the deck. So far, I have talked a lot about attacking fair decks, and Snapcaster is very good at that, flashing back a removal spell, a Brainstorm and attacking. But, where it really shines is in the combo matchups. The deck is very much set up to be reactive when playing against combo. When I played Delver, the games I lost were due to drawing too many creatures and thus feeling pressure to commit mana on my turn, giving the opponent a window to combo off. The fact that Snapcaster is both a threat and a spell, and allows me to play on my opponent's endstep, is crucial to this deck's potency against Storm, Reanimator, and Sneak & Show.

Sean: The sideboard involves a very comprehensive Red splash. I know the list started base Bant, what was the main reasoning behind the Red splash?

Ethan: The deck was originally just Bant, which is admittedly a pretty limiting color combination. I like to build my sideboards to have a "Jundy" configuration post board, where we cut most of the counter magic and just machine gun the opponent's creatures with cheap removal and win on the back of a card advantage engine or unstoppable threat; I originally used this strategy in 4c Delver, specifically to ameliorate the Death & Taxes matchup. Without playing Black or Red there are not the kill spells requisite to employing this strategy. There is obvious appeal to Black in Abrupt Decay and Fatal Push, but I value Pyroblast and, more importantly, Pyroclasm, much more highly. Pyroclasm specifically just solves so many problems, and cutting True-Name makes it a one-sided wrath most of the time. Death & Taxes and Elves are, by a lot, the most difficult matchups. Luckily, Pyroclasm is incredibly powerful against both. I also like it a lot against Delver, which is a slightly favorable matchup, but they have a certain subset of creature-heavy draws that are very difficult to beat without a cheap wrath. The Red splash is not pretty, but necessary.

Sean: The sideboard contains some interesting choices like Jace Beleren. Any further comments on these?

Ethan:

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I try to be very conservative in deck building when there isn't much precedent for an archetype. I get a lot of suggestions to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but his casting cost scares me. I have tried four-drops in past iterations of the deck, and it is very hard to cast them, especially when respecting an opposing Daze or Spell Pierce or with our mana under siege from Rishadan Port and Wasteland. The ideal card that I would have in this slot is Painful Truths. Jace Beleren was the closest thing that I could come up within these colors. I was initially skeptical, but it actually tested really well. I resolved it three times against Miracles and didn't come close to losing those games. Jace also comes in when I employ the Jundy post-board plan. Against something like Death & Taxes trading with their creatures only gets you so far; a cheap card advantage engine is the extra push that grinds them out of the game.

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Sudden Shock is just a good card that helps a lot with sideboarding numbers, being a removal spell that I am happy to bring in against Miracles. I cannot just ignore Mentor and side out all of my removal, but keeping in random Plows feels really bad too. Sudden Shock fixes that problem. It is also very good against Delver because you can jam it into counter magic knowing it will resolve, and has additional utility against Mother of Runes and Wirewood Symbiote. The sideboard Volcanic Island originally felt like a necessary evil, but in practice I have really liked it, so much so that I think I would have an extra land in the board regardless of the red splash. This deck's post-board approach varies wildly depending on the opposing deck, and as a result I want to have the flexibility of going up to twenty (Jundy plan) or down to eighteen lands (Against Combo and Miracles). Also, I often cut White entirely post-board. Against Storm, for example, the Volcanic Island is great because I side it in and cut two Tundra, making my mana perfect for the RUG deck that I become post-board.

Sean: What would you say are the good matchups of the deck? And bad matchups?

Ethan:

  • Favorable matchups include Eldrazi, Miracles, Storm, Sneak & Show, random Abrupt Decay midrange decks like Shardless BUG and Noble Duke.
  • Close matchups include Delver and RB Reanimator.
  • Bad matchups Death & Taxes, Elves, and Red Stompy.

Sean: Thank you!

Ethan: Thanks Sean!

Conclusion

Thanks as always for reading TWiL. Before I go, as always, I'll highlight a few more things to watch, read and listen:

That's a lot of great Legacy content to get into. Enjoy!

As always,

'Til next time,

Sean Brown

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

What I'm Playing This Week

Friend of mine Steven Stamopoulos came to an interesting list. Although he'd been strongly pushing 4c Delver, the clunky mana base had been giving him issues, especially with his desire to include Tombstalker, a card I've continually ranted on being amazingly positioned. He still loved his Lightning Bolts too, and was unwilling to give up on these (especially given he has Beta Bolts). However, the typical Grixis Delver lists felt much too weak with the Pyromancer package and struggled to support double Black for Stalker. So what if we crafted a Grixis Delver list but somewhat in the style of 4c Delver? The deck also gets to run Stifle thanks to it not needing to proactively use spells to get value out of Pyromancer.

And so we come to the so-called "Team Australia," tongue-in-cheek named after our home country.

(I'm sure no one other than my fellow countrymen will get these references, but anyway).

The Spice Corner

This week we look at an Esper Mill deck that took down a Top 8. It utilizes cards such as Archive Trap and Hedron Crab to turn Jace's Phantasm into a monster, a Delver of Secrets on steroids.  Visions of Beyond is also essentially Ancestral Recall in a deck such as this.


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