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This Week in Legacy: SCG Worcester Recap and Prison-Control Decks

Hello, everyone! Welcome to another edition of This Week in Legacy! This week, we'll recap the large Legacy tournament hosted by StarCityGames that occurred in Worcester, break down the metagame there, and give some insight into the interesting decks that saw play, many being non-blue and involving hateful lock pieces, segueing nicely into an outline of prison–control strategies that are excellent in the format!

Firstly, the breakdown of Worcester:

The expected pillars of the metagame—Miracles, Eldrazi Stompy, flavors of Delver, and Shardless BUG—all came out in force, and Ed Dimicco won with a Stifle-based Grixis Delver list. However, interestingly, Lands put up the greatest amount of finishes in the Top 32. As we'll soon see, Lands is built to prey on "fair" decks, such as the Delver decks and Shardless BUG, against which its primary gameplan of mana denial is very impressive, which may have contributed to its success in the tournament. A few outlier decks also weaved their way into the Top 32 as well—Blood Moon prison strategies such as Goblin Stompy and Mono-Red Sneak Attack made appearances, as did Knight of the Reliquary-based decks such as 4c Loam and Punishing Maverick. Overall though, the Top 32 metagame looked lacking in combo, with only ANT, Sneak & Show, and Reanimator being representatives of pure combo decks—a field ripe for Lands to crush.

Keep on Loaming, Loaming, Loaming . . .

So, let's have a look at Lands, one of the premier non-blue decks of Legacy!

Lands, as its name suggests, is a deck that abuses many of the lands within Magic's history that have interesting and unusual effects. Some of the lands tap for mana, as expected, while others do not and instead provide utility, such as delaying creatures' attacks, taxing creatures in play, preventing damage, or simply making an indestructible 20/20 flier. Wasteland and Rishadan Port also team up to make constricting, or obliterating the opponent's mana completely, a possibility, and indeed, mana denial is one of Lands' primary gameplans. However, previous iterations of the deck utilised this as really the deck's only gameplan, while manlands like Mishra's Factory finished the job in slow fashion. More modern versions, however—after the Legend Rule change in Theros—were able to assemble faster kills via the combo of Thespian's Stage and Dark Depths: copy the Dark Depths with Stage, Legend Rule your old Dark Depths, and voilà! Your Stage is now a Dark Depths with zero ice counters, and you can sacrifice it to swing for a bunch of damage.

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Although the Lands are indeed crucial to the gameplan of the deck, probably more significant are its engine cards—Exploration and Life from the Loam—with Manabond usually supplementing these. Loam allows the deck to basically cast "Landcestral Recall" every turn, though it does cause the deck to be quite graveyard reliant and crippled by cards like Rest in Peace. Exploration allows Lands to quickly get ahead on board, abuse mana denial faster than opponents can set up, and also creates an indestructible prison once Loam is also going along with it. Rounding out the deck are a few non-land spells like Punishing Fire, which can be revived via Grove of the Burnwillows, for more interaction with creatures, and tutors like Gamble (which typically has no downside thanks to Loam) and Crop Rotation

As mentioned, all of Lands' game plans are typically very strong against the fair decks of the format. Delver decks, in particular, have a very difficult time with Lands, as their fragile manabases are prone to denial and their creatures are poor against Punishing Fire and Maze of Ith. It's also very difficult for them to beat an indestructible 20/20. The same can be said for other decks such as Shardless BUG and Eldrazi. White-based decks can cause Lands a little trouble: Swords to Plowshares is an easy answer to Marit Lage, although gaining twenty life can be nice, but more importantly, Rest in Peace can be backbreaking. Miracles typically has an even-to-favorable matchup with Lands due to its access to these cards, as well as its ability to cut off L,oam via Counterbalance.

Where Lands truly struggles, though, is against combo. Storm decks, in particular, have a very easy time against Lands, since all of the deck's game plans are typically too slow—Lands can only hope for a very fast draw with Marit Lage to get things done. This is addressed via the huge amount of hate in the sideboard, including Sphere of Resistance and Chalice of the Void.

Kevin King's Lands list, which came second in SCG Worcester, is a good representation of most common lists:

An interesting piece of technology is the Boseiju, Who Shelters All in the main deck, which proved to be very powerful against his Miracles opponents throughout the weekend and was an excellent metagame call. Also in the sideboard, Kevin included the piece of technology Jarvis Yu introduced via his Lands list in GP Columbus: Tireless Tracker.

The Standard all-star is excellent as a card advantage engine in Lands, but unlike Dark Confidant, which found his place in Lands lists of the past, Tracker does not require a splash. He can also deal a lot of damage as counters get piled on, and the instant-speed card draw gives Lands insurance against their Life from the Loam getting Surgical Extractioned.

That's not to say the black splash has no merit, as one of the Lands players in Worcester found success with it. A lot of these versions trim out the Punishing Fire and Grove combo to add Molten Vortexes, allowing room for Bayous and Abrupt Decays—which are very handy against Miracles. But Neeraj Shukla got a little greedy and squeezed in the Bayou, Decays, and the Punishing Grove combo, taking it to 27th place!

Another deck abusing prison elements, similar to Lands, is 4c Loam, designed around a year ago in Europe as the successor to past creature decks, but with a strong ability to grind through the dominant Miracles. 4c Loam abuses the acceleration Mox Diamond provides and the recursion of Loam in a similar way to Lands, but accelerates out main deck Chalice of the Voids to shut off a lot of the format, or Turn 1 Dark Confidant or Sylvan Library to really get the grind going. The rest of the deck is rounded out by powerful removal (Decay and the Punishing Grove combo, along with Liliana of the Veil) and a tutorable creature package with Green Sun's Zenith. Knight of the Reliquary is the deck's primary threat and is also tutorable, allowing for extreme beats or the ability to find some flexible lands—including the Dark Depths / Thespian's Stage combo.

Rudy Brizka, typically known for piloting blue decks in the format, instead brought the hateful non-blue deck. His list was armed with some spicy planeswalkers in the sideboard that just got much better in Legacy, thanks to the new double-faced card ruling. No longer can your Arlinn Kord or Garruk Relentless eat those Abrupt Decays!

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Victory for Blood Moon!

The Blood Moon rose on Worcester as well, with the Top 8 bringing some hateful concoctions into light. Blood Moon has typically been incredibly powerful in Legacy, which as we know revolves around the greedy tri-colour mana bases that it locks out. Slamming a Blood Moon on Turn 1 via Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, and Chrome Mox or Simian Spirit Guide has been a recipe for high-variance success since this was available, but having some form of backup plan has always been problematic for these decks. The two lists that Top 8-ed showed diverging options on how to remedy these problems.

Goblin Stompy is probably the most popular variant of what has historically  been known in Legacy as Dragon Stompy. These decks used the typical prison elements of eight Moon effects, Chalice of the Void, and Trinisphere, similar to recent variants, but had threats such as Rakdos Pit Dragon (i.e., the "Dragon" in the deck's name) and Gathan Raiders as their beaters. These Hellbent beatsticks were great at clocking the opponent very fast, but didn't give the deck much of a backup plan if a lock piece was countered or destroyed. With the changing metagame involving Terminus and Abrupt Decay, a backup plan was needed.

Who would think random Goblins would be the best plan available?! But with Goblin Rabblemaster's printing, red Stompy decks got a threat with the perfect mana cost (2R is the golden mana cost for casting off a Sol Land and a Mountain) that didn't cause the deck to go all-in—it was an army-in-a-can that, even if removed, left a lasting impact with its tokens, while still killing the opponent incredibly quickly when they were imprisoned. Moggcatcher complemented Rabblemaster by being a more mid-game threat that resisted Abrupt Decay, created a lot of value if one untapped with it, and also gave the deck the ability to adapt to a variety of situations. Need a bounce spell? Stingscourger has your back. A Shock? Muderous Redcap calling for duty. Need a late-game bomb? Siege-Gang Commander can be tutored for.

And with this powerhouse of little red idiots and lock pieces, Rob Blocher made it to third / fourth place of SCG Worcester!

Rob incorporated some powerful new additions to the deck as well. Although not a Goblin, Pia and Kiran Nalaar is an excellent threat that creates multiple bodies and also gives useless Chrome Moxes or Chalices some purpose. Fiery Confluence is also a powerful, flexible sideboard choice for these decks that also provides the deck with an incredible amount of reach. Take six!

Meanwhile, Jeff Hoogland took the backup plan in a different direction. Instead of some weenies, he brought some giant, scary monsters.

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When the prison element fails, this deck aims to abuse mana acceleration to power out Sneak Attack or Through the Breach, and ideally use Griselbrand and / or Emrakul to kill the opponent in a hasty fashion. Get that Griselbrand into play, draw fourteen cards, and then twenty-two your opponent with the typical hasty fatty tag-team. However, the deck also has some interesting options in terms of other creatures.

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Unlike other variants of decks abusing Sneak Attack (such as the blue-based Sneak & Show, which has Show and Tell as an additional combo piece), Hoogland's deck can actually cast some of his creatures, whether it be via Seething Song or just via the absurd amount of mana that Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, and Sandstone Needle can create. Inferno Titan stabilises the board and is great mana sink and beatstick, while Godo, Bandit Warlord does an excellent Stoneforge Mystic impression, bringing a Batterskull to the table and typically letting it attack twice!

Also, check out Jeff Hoogland's tournament report if you want more information on the deck and how his tournament went!

Both of these lists run Chalice of the Void, but another Blood Moon prison deck does not . . . because it needs to keep its ability to cast one-mana Vindicates and combo out the opponent! Imperial Painter is another mana-hating blue-hating deck that utilise the combo finish of Painter's Servant and Grindstone to mill out the opponent, but also packs main deck Pyroblasts and Red Elemental Blasts—once Painter is in play, everything becomes blue, including lands, and these can be destroyed! The rest of the deck is rounded out by prison elements such as Blood Moon but also Ensnaring Bridge, which shuts off many non-combo decks in Legacy (and even some of the combo decks!). The deck achieves consistency via Sensei's Divining TopEnlightened Tutor, which find both combo pieces and lock pieces (though is eschewed in Mono-Red variants); and Imperial Recruiter, the other namesake of the deck, which can find more Painter's Servants or alternative win conditions such as Jaya Ballard, Task Mage or sideboard hate bears.

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MDA11's list is a pretty stock Imperial Painter list splashing white (colloquially known as Strawberry Shortcake, due to Plateau's text box colouration), except for it including another combo that has been dominating Modern . . .

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Nahiri, the Harbinger has found a pretty nice home in Imperial Painter, with all of her abilities being incredibly synergistic. Her loot ability is excellent with Goblin Welder, while her minus ability exiles problematic enchantments such as Counterbalance, which can be quite a thorn for a deck that is concentrated around one or two mana to combo. And, her ultimate can, of course, find a singleton Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or, if desired, Painter's Servant to assemble the combo finish. I'm quite a big fan of this innovation, despite it adding some dead cards to the deck (drawing an opener with Emrakul must be gross) and Nahiri being potentially difficult to cast under a Blood Moon (but surely Moon has won the game anyway, right?).

From Red Weenies to White Weenies

And, how can I talk about prison decks without mentioning the fairest of them all? Despite it not appearing in Worcester, Death & Taxes is probably the deck in Legacy closest to my heart and has always been a strong contender in the metagame. Let's have a look (my) pretty classic list:

On the surface, Death & Taxes may look like a white weenie deck of old, utilising cheap, efficient beaters to swarm the opponent. But this is definitely not the case—in Legacy, the premier white weenie deck is a prison–control deck. All of the creatures, even though they have stats, aim to cripple the opponent and dismantle their game plan in some fashion, while slowly taking them from twenty to zero. Similar to Chalice of the Void, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben punishes the low-curve, cantrip-dense decks of the format, and also ensures that Death & Taxes can easily beat combo despite not having access to Force of Will. Phyrexian Revoker does duty on the variety of activated abilities within the Legacy format, whether it be Sensei's Divining top, Lion's Eye Diamond (yes, it can cut off mana abilities from non-lands!), or Jace, the Mind SculptorStoneforge Mystic needs little introduction, being the well-known powerhouse of Legacy that finds Batterskull or Umezawa's Jitte, but I feel—perhaps controversially—that Death & Taxes is the best Stoneforge Mystic deck due to its high creature density, meaning there's lots of bodies to equip and turn into game-ending beatsticks.

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The "glue" of the deck consists of a few cards. Aether Vial allows for a lot of tricky plays and the ability to cheat mana, which complements one of the deck's primary gameplans of mana denial. Like Lands, the deck utilises the eight-pack of Wasteland and Rishadan Port, but while these mana-denial elements occur, a Turn 1 Vial allows creatures to be continually spit out, whether it be Thalia to punish mana more or beaters like Mirran Crusader or Serra Avenger (the flex slots of the deck) to just kill the opponent while they are crippled. Mother of Runes is another piece that holds the deck together. A Turn 1 Mother causes the opponent to need removal all on Turn 1, or all the hateful creatures will be immune to a single removal spell, causing them to wreak havoc on the opponent and really enact Death & Taxes's destructive game plan. And finally, Flickerwisp, the innocuous Eventide Elemental, in combination with Aether Vial, is the deck's catch-all. Whether it is acting as a 3/1 flier with a Rishadan Port activation attached by targeting opposing lands, making the final points of damage achievable by flickering the opponent's Ensnaring Bridge, or saving a creature from removal by flickering it out of the way, Flickerwisp provides an incredible amount of utility that even I, having played the deck for quite some time, am still continually discovering.

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Rounding out the rest of the deck is Swords to Plowshares, the premier white removal of the format, and the aforementioned beatsticks to close out the game. The mana base consists of a lot of basic Plains to give the deck an advantage against opposing Wasteland strategies, particularly Delver decks, and some number of Karakas. These assist in saving Thalia from removal and also have utility against opponents trying to summon a huge legendary creature via a card such as Show and Tell or Reanimate. Also, an age-old combo of the deck, which existed during its primordial form, uses Karakas. The "Mangara Lock" utilises Mangara of Corondor and Karakas to create a continuous consumption of opposing permanents, since exiling Mangara is a part of his ability's resolution, rather than a cost. Therefore, "activate Mangara, hold priority, bounce with Karakas" should be a sentence that strikes fear into fair opponents everywhere.

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Interestingly, the deck has seen some innovations in recent months. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has seen a lot of play in Death & Taxes players' sideboards as a proactive answer to cards like Dread of Night and Golgari Charm, which the deck can struggle against. Furthermore, he's excellent against grindy opponents such as Miracles and Shardless BUG, where he can take over the game.

And, of course, the newly spoiled queen of White Weenie:

Thalia, Heretic Cathar appears to be a great piece that interlocks well with the deck's mana-denial gameplan and taxes almost anything an opponent does, especially in Legacy, where fetch lands and duals are so prevalent. It also assists the deck in the occasional racing situations via her Imposing Sovereign ability, not to mention that she is protected by Karakas like little Thalia and has excellent combat stats as a 3/2 first striker. Unfortunately, three mana is quite a bit in the Legacy format, and whether she is fast enough for the format, despite all her boons, is to be seen in the future.


There ends our insight into SCG Worcester and the prison strategies of the format for this week. There's still quite a lot of the Legacy metagame to cover, and Eldritch Moon has some additions to investigate, but hopefully that will unravel in the weeks ahead, and if anything, the diversity of Legacy is something excellent to cherish.

Feel free to contact me via email, reddit or Twitter, or just leave a comment below, and you can also catch me on The Salt Mine: An Australian Legacy Podcast!

‘Til then!

Sean Brown

Reddit: ChemicalBurns156
Twitter: @Sean_Brown156

What I'm Playing This Week

Another weekly post-conclusion thing I'll try and keep up: every week, I'll outline what I'm enjoying at the moment and give some very brief insight into it.

Recently, I've been playing this spicy meatball at my local weeklies:

Manaless Dredge is a cousin to the more popular Lion's Eye DiamondFaithless Looting Dredge variant, but instead of using cards such as Faithless Looting or Careful Study to get a Dredger into the graveyard, which can then start the deck's self-milling with every draw, Manaless Dredge abuses the cleanup step. This makes its setup step completely uncounterable, though it means the deck always has to go on the draw and essentially gives the opponent a free turn.

But who really cares, when you're killing them in a way that is completely uninteractive, since all the creatures you utilise cannot be countered or killed. Ichorids and Nether Shadows just keep returning, again, and again, and again, until the opponent is overwhelmed—or combo killed by Dread Returning Flayer of the Hatebound and Golgari Grave-Troll, once the graveyard is fully stocked.

The deck used to struggle with powerful hate cards like Grafdigger's Cage and Rest in Peace, but thanks to Shadows Over Innistrad's Prized Amalgam, the deck now has a sufficient blue count to cast Force of Will and Disrupting Shoal out of the sideboard and push through the hate! Recent sweet plays have involved me Force of Willing my opponent's Lightning Bolt on their own Monastery Swiftspear in order to keep my Bridge from Belows and get the Zombie beats going.

The Spice Corner

And, for this week, we have a man who truly wants to play a fair game:

Maverick is still a fringe contender in the current Legacy metagame, and will likely be discussed when we look into other midrange decks. The deck is a solid mana dorks and fair creatures deck, most of which can be found via Green Sun's Zenith. Interestingly, Meritt Elasmri conceded his combo matchups by cutting Thalia, Guardian of Thraben from his main deck and instead included the Punishing Grove combination (which worked well for many in Worcester, admittedly). He also squeezed the Dark Depths combo and Deathrite Shaman's black splash ability off a Bayou into the mana base too!

His sideboard is also a thing to be commended. I think this is the first time I've seen Fiery Justice, a card that I saw in old Modern Kiki-Pod lists, in a Legacy sideboard!

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