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This Week in Legacy: Tuning Some Niche Decks

Welcome to another This Week in Legacy. This week we’re going to be looking at a few free-form ideas on some niche decks that have piqued my interest over the past few weeks and could be excellent metagame contenders moving forward. Do not fret – there will be plenty of spice ahoy – along with analysis of new ideas that people have been implementing.

Death’s Shadow

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The Modern menace has continued to make waves in Legacy again and again and again.  There’s honestly so many ways to take a Death's Shadow deck in Legacy. Do we want to be a Delver deck? Do we want Deathrite? Do we want Street Wraith? These are all very worrying deckbuilding considerations. I’ll start with an initial framework nonetheless:

4 Death's Shadow

4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ponder
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
4 Daze

2-3 Watery Grave

Well, that’s a pretty generic tempo shell. But it makes sense in Shadow, since it’s a very large threat that requires a commitment of very few resources and Daze is particularly excellent at increasing damage from shocklands (and therefore the power of Shadow). From there the deck can move in a few directions. The first question, in my mind, is to Delver or not to Delver.

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With Delver, naturally, the shell sort of forms itself, especially if one includes Deathrite Shaman.

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Let’s begin with a version that looks promising, but actually ends up being pretty medium, in my mind:

This is a pretty nice looking BUG Shadow main deck but… Honestly, this is basically a BUG Delver deck that just decided Tarmogoyfs need to be worked for by sacrificing a lot of life. Sure, Berserk is neat play with Shadow, and Library is great as a way to remedy Shadow’s problems against Swords to Plowshares and this list can definitely win some games, but I’m not sure if’s doing anything particular different or notable. It’s not really capitalizing on the power of Shadow (and can actually struggle to get Shadow online fast enough with only Probe and shocks to do so). There is also the possibility of going down a Grixis route (with Temur Battle Rage and Bolts over Push) over BUG, but the mana base looks terrible if Green Deathrite activations are required along with fitting in shocks. It too just looks like a Grixis Delver that is requiring a little too much work.

The natural pathway to go down then is to cut Deathrite Shaman to prevent mana base tensions of being a shockland-based tri-colour deck. With no Deathrite the deck is free to be less midrangey and more tempoey, incorporating elements like Stifle,which complements Shadow quite well, as a one-mana threat allows Stifle to be easily held up.

Cutting Deathrite also leads to deck space for more Shadow enablers:

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Street Wraith is a little worse than Probe, but certainly can have some exciting interactions with cards like Reanimate – though usually there’s too few slots for fun things like that.

Let’s brew up another list:

This main deck I like a fair bit better. It is, however, a little disruption light in the main deck, unable to fit in additional Spell Pierce main. There’s a few other fun removal options like Snuff Out and friends that are also usable in this shell over the Dismember slot.

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A card I also haven’t talked about is Thoughtseize.

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A staple of Modern Shadow decks, I’m actually interested in seeing how this takes the Legacy version. It is certainly a tempo-negative card (you spend mana to disrupt the opponent while they did nothing) and doesn’t synergize particularly effectively with the mana denial Stifle/Wasteland/Daze core. So maybe you cut that. Which gives a few more slots once Wasteland is cut.

This has fun-of Reanimate to bring back cycled Wraiths or Shadows or Delvers – essentially it is meant to be an additional threat that also flips Delver – along with an additional removal slot in Snuff Out. I could see it being some sort of card advantage spell (Painful Truths?), some flexible disruption (Collective Brutality comes to mind) or even something like Hymn to Tourach or Inquisition of Kozilek. Also note, it’s very possible the basic lands are not even necessary and can simply become two more fetchlands.

Speaking of Delver, the little insect can be a little lackluster once you include Wraiths. They’re a pseudo-spell that doesn’t flip Delver… But they are certainly good at fueling Delve. Similar to Modern Shadow’s construction, maybe Delver is not worthwhile and slamming giant idiots for one mana is the way to go. Inspired by this list that recently won a Card Kingdom event:

This is really turbo Xerox. I do like utilizing Tasigur over the Tombstalker chosen by the Card Kingdom list, because producing as many mana efficient one-mana plays as possible is key in the deck like this. To take this into a more Stifle-based list, the Card Kingdom one is a great place to start.

You’ll notice I haven’t noted sideboards for any of these lists. That’s because I’m only trying to reveal the underlying framework to these lists and then further customization can be undertaken. Nonetheless, I’ll list a few options that are reasonable:

I think one of the main issues this Blue-Black list will have is dealing with permanent-based issues (for example, Rest in Peace can shut off the Delve creatures and leave the deck very threat-light) so perhaps having something like True-Name in the sideboard is also a solid alternative angle of attack in the sideboard.

Nonetheless, I feel the “correct” Shadow list is still yet to be established, and hopefully the lists I’ve outlined give a bit of a feel for where one could begin testing and tuning a list. I think Thoughtseize vs. Stifle is a question to answer, as well as the Delver vs. Delve package. I think Thoughtseize also has the possibility of being reasonable in a Wasteland shell (similar to how Grixis uses Wasteland and Therapy).


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This deck is much more fringe than Shadow, but it too is looking more and more reasonable as a way to revive the “dead” Painter archetype, which took such a hit with the banning of Top, due to some interesting innovations with recent lists.

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The first version is one that was investigated a little bit with the printing of Whir of Invention in Japan and had some success in a small event in Germany that inspired me. This version utilizes Brainstorm, Ponder, Force of Will, a pile of artifacts and the combo kill of Painter’s Servant + Grindstone.

Let’s have a look at the core:

4 Painter’s Servant
4 Grindstone

4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Force of Will
4 Whir of Invention

20 lands

We have sixteen slots to play with. Koikawa Shun filled these with some light countermagic in the form of Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm and Counterspell. But I’d prefer to power up our Whirs a little more. One excellent piece of technology I think Koikawa utilized is Relic of Progenitus.

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This can hang around, fuel a Whir (essentially acting as a pseudo-mana rock) and before that disrupt the opponent’s graveyard value engine. And after that it can cycle! I like this a lot as a role-player to grease this deck’s engine.

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Back to Basics I like too, but whether it is feasible in the main deck I think is more a consideration of space. It is not particularly synergistic with the deck’s game plan but is merely a good, high-variance “punk the opponent” out card.

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A card I particularly like in these Ancient Tomb Blue combo shells is Jace. Accelerating this bad boy out on turn three sounds excellent. Especially if he can be defended from opposing creatures in some way… Like via Ensnaring Bridge. Although Bridge looks counter productive with Jace, as long as Jace is Brainstorming in to cards that can be deployed on that turn (to empty ones hand) then things should be fine. Or he can just tick up!

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Trinket Mage I also think is a solid role-player in these shells to find Grindstone, flex artifacts like Pithing Needle or even just be a guy who cycles by finding Relic or just pitching to Force of Will. Aether Spellbomb is also an option to deal with hate bears and such.

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Lastly… Search for Azcanta. The Miracles machine also works excellently in a slow Blue combo-control shell like Painter, finding one half of the combo or a tutor for the rest of it.

So we get to this:

There’s a lot of great sideboard options for this list because the Trinket Mage toolbox. I think, although this deck seems okay against graveyard-based combo and Sneak & Show because of the Relic of Progenitus and Bridge. Storm is certainly an issue because of the lack of countermagic.

  • More gravehate like Grafdigger’s Cage (helpful against Elves too) or Tormod’s Crypt.
  • Countermagic like Flusterstorm and friends.
  • Alternative win conditions, such as creatures like Vendilion Clique who provide disruption and poke in for damage. Llawan, Cephalid Empress also combos with Painter to lock out any creature-based strategies.
  • The aforementioned mana denial of Back to Basics.
  • Blue blast effects are useful in any matchup where Red cards may make an appearance, while also powering up significantly when a Painter is in play.
  • There’s a few techy artifacts like Hope of Ghirapur and more Spellskite who are also useful for protecting Painter.

I’m also open to being very wrong about looking towards this more permanent-based approach to Mono-Blue Painter. Koikawa’s more countermagic-based approach without Bridge may actually be genius in disguise when playing a Brainstorm version of Painter. I think a Blue-Red approach would the absolute best in this case, since you can capitalize on the power if Red blast effects and Painter. Abrade is also a nice flexible answer.

The last version of Painter I’d like to look at the Chalice-based approach of jasper. I particularly love how Chalice and Whir interact favorably.

Breaking this down, I can see the core of the deck looks something like this:

4 Painter's Servant
2 Grindstone
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Force of Will

3 Whir of Invention / 1 Transmute Artifact
4 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

I’m not sure if I can get on board with the tension between Trinket Mage and Chalice of the Void, even though Mage does essentially provide extra copies of Chalice itself. I also think that, although Lodestone Golem is a great threat, the tension it creates with actually comboing out seems to create a lot of tension, and maybe a colourless disruption option of Thought-Knot Seer is an option (or Vendilion Clique).

I’d also add Bridge very happily to a list like this to fuel Whir or just pitch to Thirst. Speaking of Thirst, seeing this card in a shell makes me incredibly happy, and it is certainly one of Legacy’s underutilized card advantage engines. In a deck that uses Chalices and often wants to rid itself of excess Chalices, Thirst looks great.

I’d probably defer moreso to jasper in terms of card choices (for example, I’m sure Trinket Mage as a Grey Ogre that beats down while your opponent is Chaliced out is actually a pretty good win con) and although his list looks scattered and the above more focussed on “comboing out,” a lot of the time with Chalice decks winning via idiot beatdown is good enough and having a bit more strength in that plan is reasonable.


And so concludes This Week in Legacy! Hopefully this foray into profiling and attempting to tune up-and-coming lists has been interesting, and feedback on whether further investigations are desired would be much appreciated. Feel free to mention any under-the-radar decks which may of piqued interest!

As always, here’s some things from around the net:

‘Til next time.

Sean Brown

Reddit: ChemicalBurns156
Twitter: @Sean_Brown156

What I’m Playing This Week

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Kitesail Freebooter, to me, is the real deal in this deck. Disruption that is often uncounterable and synergistic with the overall game plan, it also makes the deck’s combo matchup much more reasonable and a combination of Canonist, Leyline, Freebooter, Priest, and Spyglass should give the deck tons of flexibility. Many have played Collective Brutality in the sideboard and it looks pretty decent to me too, I may try squeeze some room in the sideboard for it.

The Spice Corner

This list makes me feel a little gross inside…

This comes out of a small event in Stockholm. Yes, that is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben right next to Brainstorm. I’m lost. True-Name and Clique are certainly excellent additions to the Taxes shell, however!

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