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This Week in Legacy: Tailoring Removal

Welcome to another This Week in Legacy! This week we'll run through some more interesting tournament results that have sprung up over the course of the week. Furthermore, I'll also be running through some interesting removal options that we could utilize help us out against all the threats I outlined in the last two weeks.

Dark Thresh Evolution - The Power of the Scour

Dark Thresh has nicely been catching on after the debut of Fatal Push, taking down a few tournaments across the globe - /u/cdsboy took it to a Top 8, Tom Brown took down a tournament in England, Genriccactus took down a 5-0, and another topped a 39-player tournament. I'm happy to see the deck taking off. Let's highlight the deck once more, but also look where others have taken a BUG Fatal Push shell in more radical directions.

These lists show quite a variation on how the threat base should be modeled. A notable four-of in almost any deck he is found, Deathrite Shaman has had his numbers trimmed within some of these lists to a three-of and even two-of, which looks incredibly bizarre but can be understood with a little bit of context.

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Of note, Dark Thresh, and its big brother Canadian Threshold, are all synergy based decks, that aim to create advantage via low land counts, the ability to operate off few mana sources and, thanks to Mongoose, the ability to largely blank removal. These decks do not rely on brute power card-for-card, but aim to utilize a cohesive and disruptive package to win the game. I've been playing a lot of RUG these days, and boarding out my Delvers is the most common strategy I utilized against removal flooded opposing BUG decks. Instead I opt to ride Goose, Mandrills, or True-Name to victory, all largely impervious to common removal. Deathrite Shaman throws a wrench in that plan, however, with the deck now offering up not only Delver as a removal magnet, but also Deathrite, making sideboarding plans very awkward. Decks like Grixis Delver, that is flooded with small creatures, does not mind this as much, nor does a deck like traditional BUG Delver that shreds hands and removal away anyway. Deathrite is also incredibly mana intensive to turn into a realistic clock, making holding up Stifle and other pieces of countermagic a bit of an issue. He's been less impressive in the Dark Thresh shell than you'd expect him to be.

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I have been continually wrangling with the thought of Spell Snare in the deck, despite Push and Decay making it look largely irrelevant. But there truly is something to be said about the power of Snare in these low-to-the-ground shells, offering the trade of one mana for the opponent's two as long as it's timed right. Abrupt Decay I like to think in these decks as the "get out of jail" card to draw late, while Snare is the piece of the puzzle to prevent the early assault of the opponent. I've been extremely fond of it against Death & Taxes and Miracles to stop their early lock pieces that would tax our ability to cast or search for the removal needed anyway.

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"I'd love a Painful Recall," my friend Steven would say. And he'd be right. I've been incredibly impressed with the card, boarding it in even against combo decks when there's enough dead cards to board out. Although it looks clunky to tap out and leave yourself "shields down," finding a pile of Daze and Force of Will after a Storm opponent has shredded apart your hand says something. And against fair decks the card pulls you incredibly far ahead, arming you with free counters, threats, and a wealth of cantrips. It also keeps the gas running so that Mongoose can grow. I've been running Life from the Loam in most of my Green Delver decks currently as the grind spell of choice, but I may move back to the Painful Recall in the days ahead.

Taking all that I've said on board - the lack of synergy Deathrite provides, the power of Snare and Truths - and if we remember Jonathan Alexander's Delverless Canadian Threshold deck, we can give Dark Thresh the same treatment, and that's what Hans Jacob Goddik "HJ_Kaiser" did, with his innovative Delverless Dark Thresh list:

To the layman eye, this looks like the most bizarre pile on the planet. But there is a lot going on.

The most important of these is Thought Scour.

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As I've mentioned, the Delve threats are currently incredibly well positioned, as is Nimble Mongoose, and a deck full of only these makes all opposing spot removal entirely useless. Scour ties all these guys together, keeping the graveyard full, and is certainly a known commodity after Angler Delver got so much exposure many months before. The interesting thing about HJ_Kaiser's list is that he plays Black but has opted for a different Delve threat in Hooting Mandrills. As controversial as it sounds, I feel that Mandrills is an incredible choice over Angler, and although on a empty board and in a toe-to-toe fight Angler will dominate, he certainly doesn't against True-Name Nemesis.

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While True-Name creates a brickwall against Angler, the monkeys shrug on through. I've been able to experience the strength of Mandrills against Reid Duke's True-Name BUG myself, and it is certainly a pleasant feeling to know that when the obnoxious fish resolves, there is a very easy way to keep pushing through damage other than my own Delvers, who are prone to removal, or my own True-Names who can be tough to resolve.

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HJ_Kaiser also opted for a full three-pack of Invasive Surgery over the more typical Flusterstorm. Surgery is very strong with Thought Scour in the mix easily turning on Delirium and hence Surgery into a Extraction effect against combo decks, while also acting as protection against the common removal people will board in against untargetable threats, cards like Council's Judgment and Toxic Deluge.

In a similar vein, Ethan Gaieski and Alex J. Chen, on their wonderful stream, have been trying a Bant Thresh list. No more Fatal Push, instead going back to the classic Plows, but with added White cards in the sideboard. I'm surprised the classic Meddling Mage, a previous hallmark of Bant Thresh lists, is not found in the seventy-five, as hatebears are quite a strong reason to be in White. Nonetheless, this further shows the flexibility of the "full shroud" core of Mandrills, Mongoose, and True-Name and the variety of shells they can find themselves in.

Thought Scour may have room for further exploration as an engine card in control decks, too, not just aggressive strategies aiming to power out Delve threats. Snapcaster Mage, Liliana, the Last Hope, Dredge cards, and flashback spells all are powerful utility cards that synergize impressively with a stocked graveyard. A list like this showcases Scour as a solid cantrip to add value to a list:

I'm more a fan of trying to get cute with things such as Unearth or Reanimate, however. Unearth is criminally underplayed for its powerful effect, especially its ability to cheat mana costs of creatures - Unearthing a True-Name, for example, could be a back-breaking tempo play. Not to mention in the worst case scenario it can simply Cycle. I'm sure there's a brew utilizing Delve creatures, a Thought Scour package, and Unearth to create some delicious value.

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Tailoring Our Removal

With the threats of the format changing, a few removal spells get a lot more credit. Let's have a look at each color and see what they offer us.

White has always had the best creature removal - Swords to Plowshares. Being able to kill either small or large creatures unconditionally has always been good. Of course, the life gain makes it inappropriate for a Delver deck that is trying to get there with its Insectile Aberrations, but premier control decks Miracles and Death & Taxes don't mind as much. Miracles' Terminus is also an excellent card if it can be supported, sweeping away True-Names and other untargetable creatures. Council's Judgment too is excellent.

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These cards to fall prey to countermagic that Delver decks utilize however. Terminus is prone to getting Stifled, while Council's Judgment is a clunky spell that can get tagged by soft countermagic. One sweeper can't, however...

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I've fought against a few Miracles lists using Supreme Verdict and the card has always impressed me. Aiming to ride threats like Mongoose or True-Name, while backing them up with Stifle for Terminus is a common way to win, but Verdict gives no care about this. Unfortunately, getting to four mana can be an issue, though Miracles' plentiful basics helps out with avoiding Wasteland and Stifle can be weaved around. I'd highly recommend it to anyone in a controlling White-Blue combination in the current metagame.

Black has got the new Fatal Push, which is similar to Swords to Plowshares in its strength somewhat, and with Green, a natural complement due to Deathrite Shaman, Abrupt Decay has always been a shoe-in. These cards epitomize flexibility in removal, Push killing small creatures early and large(-ish) creatures late (if a fetchland is available), and Decay not only killing creatures without issue, but also taking care of annoying permanents. Black is in an excellent spot now. It has now shored up its issue of having to rely on the sometimes clunky Decay and now has tempo-positive spot removal.

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Cards like True-Name Nemesis and Delve threats are still an issue though - something White does not have a problem with - but luckily Edict effects are one of Black's specialties. Although Young Pyromancer has made Liliana of the Veil less effective, her killing True-Name on-curve is something notable, as well as dealing with large creatures from Sneak & Show and Eldrazi. Diabolic Edict I've found similarly excellent if the double-Black cost on Liliana is too restrictive, and the instant-speed nature can be helpful against things such as Marit Lage. Both of these do not Edict away Leovold, Emissary of Trest without the opponent drawing a card, however. Only Innocent Blood can tout this, and in a shell such as Lam Phan's UB Landstill with very little creatures it looks like an excellent option.

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Red removal has always centered on Lightning Bolt, perhaps my favorite spell in all of Magic, but how good is Lightning Bolt currently?

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I would say "fine." Tarmogoyf and Eldrazi's downswing certainly helps out Bolt, as this leaves most of the creatures as small ones prone to it. Bolt also is able to get rid of a Leovold if need be. When Delve creatures or True-Names stall the board, Bolt also has the advantage of, unlike Fatal Push, turning into Lava Spike and cleaning up the opponent on a low life total. It also is much less of a dead card against combo. So, as I said, Bolt is still "fine." The Red card that is most impressive currently, however, are sideboard cards:

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Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast are stellar at crushing counter wars and being efficient answers to Leovold and True-Name Nemesis while they are on the stack. If anything, Blasts are the main reason to be in Red currently, coming in against combo, Miracles, Delver and, most notably, BUG decks, where the card used to be sometimes less than impressive against Goyf, Decay, and Black disruption like Hymn to Tourach. With threats changed, however, Blasts can now tag monstrosities on the stack in a tempo-positive manner. The time for three Blasts in the sideboard is now.

Some Tournament Results!

And now let's have a look at some tournament results. The first comes from a seventy-three player event in Missouri to win a Mox! Valhalla's Gate in Missouri has been doing some excellent work for the format, and have a Legacy Win-a-Lotus coming up soon as well. Dayum. I'd like to thank /u/bindergrinder1 for these tournament results. You can find the reddit thread and full lists here, and the breakdown below:

1st. RUG Lands
2nd. Infect
3rd. Burn
4th. BUG Delver
5th. BUG Delver
6th. Death & Taxes
7th. Maverick
8th. RB Reanimator

The non-Blue decks outnumbered the Blue ones! Well, sort of. The Lands list in this Top 8 was a spicy one that included a package of Intuition, Academy Ruins, Tolaria West, and Engineered Explosives, old-school additions that push the deck away from its Dark Depths fast combos and into a more controlling direction. Engineered Explosives is an excellent addition to take down untargetable threats that Fire and Maze cannot deal with, along with taking down Leovold too which can be a headache for a deck relying on "Destroy target land."

This is one of the cleaner versions of RUG Lands I've seen, with it looking like traditional Red-Green combo Lands but with some mana base and tutor alterations - there's little spice otherwise. I like RUG Lands in metagames that are much grindier and necessitate comboing out less, and I think, with all the BUG decks around, that's actually where the metagame currently stands.

The next tournament comes from Germany: the VOM Legacy Open. The website is in German, so I've got little info out of it, but the deck lists look amazing. Notably, Walking Ballista made itself truly a known entity here:

Marius Hausman brought four copies of Ballista, Dalibor brought one. But Trinket Mage notably joins the motley crew of Food Chain as another random value creature that also acts as a win condition once infinite mana is assembled. He can get a Sensei's Divining Top in the main deck, or tutor for a pile of sideboard bullets. Relic of Progenitus is a spicy one thanks to being tutorable and exiling away dead Griffins, and perhaps Relic may be an option over the Gurmag Anglers now that Empath is not in the deck to get them for value.

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Tezzerator also got in on the Ballista action in this tournament. As I mentioned last week, Ballista is an excellent mana-dump in the Ancient Tomb shells and is also an excellent hit off a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas +1. This deck also can stymie an assault of Delver and other threats very easily thanks to both Ballista and Strix being removal spells. Interesting in this deck is Tezzeret, the Seeker over the more traditional Jace, the Mind Sculptor (I guess Padeem is the grindy four-drop of choice, at least in this list) and a main deck The Abyss, which has been often utilized in Tezzerator because a) it's one sided and b) because it's the best place to flaunt your Legends wealth.

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Lastly, a Miracles list, but not as you'd expect it:

This has been seen Online a few times, and Niklas Krull has been a fan of the Esper combination quite a bit, as we saw with his previous Esper Delver list. This list is similar to Claudio Bonnani's Daze-touting original Mentor Miracles, but capitalizes on a few more synergies such as Cabal Therapy and Gitaxian Probe. It also plays some exciting grind cards - Painful Truths is impressive as a raw card advantage machine that typical Miracles does not get access to, and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy has found himself some slots. I'd love to find a slot for a Karakas so he's protectable too. 

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The sideboard is also pretty impressive: Massacre and Zealous Persecution are some pretty sweet sweeper options in this list, and sideboard Tasigur, the Golden Fang is something that should be more considered. In matchups without Karakas he surely can become an impressive grind engine.

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Thanks as always for reading This Week in Legacy. As always, some further links!

'Til next time.

Sean Brown

Reddit: ChemicalBurns156
Twitter: @Sean_Brown156

What I'm Playing This Week

It's time for me to alter my Dark Thresh list. I'm not as game to cut Deathrite completely,  but going to a three-of I can get behind. I'm also keen to incorporate a Painful Truths over Loam - I think Barbarian Ring and Loam in RUG is amazing tech, but Cabal Pit provides no reach and will have to leave. Let's hope those Crusaders stay scarce for us...

The Spice Corner

This list features an old stinker:

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This is a very different Manaless list, utilizing Bloodghast, no Amalgams, and a land package of Arbors and Dakmor Salvage to trigger the recursive Vampire. However, the lands give it access to Nature's Claim, while the Kelpies keep the Blue count high for Force of Will and, of course, is the Dread Return deck-flipper of choice. I'm not sure this is as potent as typical lists, but it's an interesting road to go down.

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