What's New With What's Old?

Posted in Top Decks on October 27, 2011

By Mike Flores

As Primeval Titans digging up Kessig Wolf Runs continue to establish themselves in the top tier of the Standard format using a variety of different spins and twists and sometimes even Copper Myr, Top Decks takes a step away from Standard to make its seldom stopover to the (Eternal) Undying Lands, with a nod to Grand Prix Amsterdam and the Legacy format.

One of the cool things to come out of this tournament is that we can see the presence of some new cards (always great) but also some changes to the format as a hole.

This is what the Amsterdam Legacy Grand Prix Top 8 looked like:

It was more-or-less an eight-deck Top 8, as the two Bant Knight of the Reliquary decks were actually quite a bit different from one another.

    Bant Knight of the Reliquary

Pierre Sommen's Bant Knight of the Reliquary

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How Does This Deck Work?

Grand Prix Winner Pierre Sommen's deck is a mash-up between one of Legacy's most favorite-est strategies (White-Blue Stoneforge Mystic) plus the mighty Knight of the Reliquary. This of course makes the deck tutor-tastic. Pierre could cast a second-turn Stoneforge Mystic in order to get Sword of Feast and Famine or Batterskull to play cheatyface the way we all appreciated in Standard a year ago, or dig up old favorite Umezawa's Jitte to dominate creature decks.

Or, he could use Knight of the Reliquary to make gigantic threats that can find the path to victory in any number of situations. For instance...

  • Maze of Ith: Pretty annoying for someone else's equipped threat... Generally good and quite a low cost way to deal with whatever solo threat creature (except maybe a gigantic Eldrazi annihilator).
  • Karakas: Speaking of which, Karakas makes for a fine solution to creatures like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (at least the kind the opponent cheats out).

Speed from Noble Hierarch, disruption via Vendilion Clique, size by way of Knight of the Reliquary, flexibility thanks to both Knight and Stoneforge Mystic... oh, and light counterspells + Jace, the Mind Sculptor as well.

Seems like a pretty saucy deck!

What's New?

Though this deck features just a solo appearance from the new Innistrad two-drop, Snapcaster Mage seems like a potentially high-impact card, a Bloodbraid Elf for Swords to Plowshares or Force of Will, either one. Jace, the Mind Sculptor bouncing Snapcaster Mage? Seems fun! (if you are the Bant deck.)

Maciej Pasek's Bant Knight of the Reliquary

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How Does This Deck Work?

Pasek's Bant Knight of the Reliquary deck is, as mentioned, quite a bit different from Sommen's. For one, it doesn't play Stoneforge Mystic... but that doesn't make it that much less tutor-tastic.

Green Sun's Zenith is awesome in formats with Dryad Arbor. You can pay to run Green Sun's Zenith where X=0 to get Dryad Arbor; it is basically Llanowar Elves.

Maciej's deck can use Green Sun's Zenith to find a giant Knight of the Reliquary or bulleted Qasali Pridemage or Gaddock Teeg as in-match-up "Get Out of Jail Free" cards.

    Ad Nauseam Tendrils

Elie Pichon's Ad Nauseam Tendrils

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How Does This Deck Work?

Ad Nauseam Tendrils is a combo deck that kills via the storm mechanic (typically Tendrils of Agony, hence the name), distinguished by the presence of—wait for it—Ad Nauseam.

Brainstorm and Ponder are there to set up the hand you want; otherwise it's all about playing a hundred variations on Dark Ritual in order to generate tons of mana (and tons of storm count). Given sufficient storm, Tendrils of Agony makes the game look easy.

What Changed?

Two things, one in and one out. In terms of "out"... Mental Misstep! Here you have a deck with many important one-mana spells (Dark Ritual, Ponder, and the super-important Brainstorm)... The banning of Mental Misstep helps it perform better than the availability of almost any new card.

What's New?

As a flashback spell, Past in Flames allows for a re-do of any big spells that might have been stopped from the other side of the table. The ability to go Duress (for mana) or completely restructure active cards is part of what makes Past in Flames so exciting.

    Naya Aggro

Fabian Görzgen's Naya Aggro

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How Does This Deck Work?

One of the biggest themes of many of these "best" decks is library manipulation to break the rule of four and go get the exact right tool for the job at hand. Add Aven Mindcensor to the mix, and all of a sudden, they might not be doing that any longer.

Stoneforge Mystic provides the big threat offense, plus we have Green Sun's Zenith doing much of what it did in Pasek's deck.

A defining element of this deck (relative to its Bant brethren) is Punishing Fire + Grove of the Burnwillows. Basically... if you have a little patience, you can gun down any small creatures (and Knight of the Reliquary can find half your combo!), and you can use the same combo to net damage against almost anyone, or score free Punishing Fire re-buys on whatever random life gain the opponent may be playing.

What's New?

When Scavenging Ooze first appeared, it was thought to be one of a handful of Commander cards that might make it into competitive Legacy play... Maybe as "a fifth Tarmogoyf" (or at least some redundant number of Tarmogoyfs if in multiples). Of course Scavenging Ooze also makes for a fine Green Sun's Zenith target. I for one am surprised to see its place in the metagame as a two-of when good old 'Goyf is only the one-of.

Scavenging Ooze is so functional, though! For one thing, it can turn off a Tarmogoyf. All of a sudden the opponent's big beater is tiny during combat. It can do the same thing to a Knight of the Reliquary. You can shrink down the opponent's Knights (and we can see from the tenor of this Top 8 how important that card remains in Legacy) while leaving your own big.

And—though we don't really see it in this Top 8—Scavenging Ooze can go on "just" Withered Wretch duty; that is, exclusive of blunting beatdown with life gain, or getting big and strong by drinking lots of milk or whatever, Scavenging Ooze can simply sit there and ruin the day of a frustrated graveyard mechanics player.

"Scavenging Ooze the target in response."

"Put, um... You know on the stack...."
"Triggers on the stack, Scavenging Ooze in response."

"Tap Grove of the Burnwillows..."
"Just a sec there. How many Punishing Fires in your graveyard?"

"Hold on there, bud. The dredge is fine but we're still in your draw step, and I have effects."

What's changed? With this little two-drop? Only a ton.

    Hive Mind

Christof Kovacs's Hive Mind

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How Does This Deck Work?

The Hive Mind deck has two distinct lines of play, both fast and powerful.

The simpler of the two is just a Show and Tell plan. Fix your opener with some kind of Island + Brainstorm on the first, bust out an Ancient Tomb or City of Traitors on the second, and Show and Tell out a 15/15 annihilator. Can you deal with my (mostly) shrouded dream-crusher on turn two? Of course you can use the various manipulation spells to set up this simple, accelerated, two-card combination to get there more consistently. For example, you can have either half and then Intuition for a copy of the other half and execute a turn later.

Random cool thing about playing with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn? Natural defense against an all-in Painter's Servant investment (see below) or a storm Brain Freeze kill (present in the metagame if not this Top 8).

Random disaster about playing with Show and Tell: You never know what's going to happen. Your opponent might drop an Emrakul of his or her own, or a Hive Mind, or some other kind of disaster that bounces or steals your way to win, leaving you with "not much" and your opponent with "something" (and perhaps something very big). Use, but use with caution.

The other plan is to put out Hive Mind + some kind of Pacts. Hive Mind is a bit more expensive than Show and Tell (and don't forget that you can in fact Show and TellHive Mind onto the battlefield), but you have Grim Monolith, double lands, and so on. Now that Hive Mind is on the battlefield, you just have to cast some kind of Pacts. Pact of the Titan you can do without any help; but the deck has Pacts aplenty. Basically Hive Mind puts Pacts onto your opponent's bill, and come next upkeep, it is going to have to be paid; if it isn't, combo Combo COMBO wins the game.

Pacts can be kind of goofball good, as well. Like you can defend your combo with Pact of Negation, or use Pact of the Titan to defend yourself.

Hive Mind is one of the fastest, most powerful, decks you can play in Legacy; and unlike decks of similar speed, it is not overtly vulnerable to, you know, a sole Scavenging Ooze or other commonly played hate card. Yes, you have to be careful about when you use your Show and Tell, but the vast majority of the time, even the "risky" half is going to be wildly better for you than for the opposition.

"You put Progenitus onto the battlefield? Wow, that's pretty good! I should care why?"

    Mono-Red Painter

Kim Grymer's Mono-Red Painter

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How Does This Deck Work?

Very cool look at the Painter's Servant strategy from Grymer... just straight red to take advantage of Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon.

So from one standpoint this is a deck that can win just on ruining the opponent's life. That is, from the first, the opponent will be unable to cast any spells and be mana screwed while Grymer does whatever. Playing a bit of the metagame, Grymer's main-deck Pyroblasts and Red Elemental Blasts actually dominate in a threat-counterspell situation on account of unconditionally stopping any counterspell for just one mana, without forcing the pitch of a card, etc.

So if the opponent is locked down by Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon, Grymer can theoretically just beat down with Simian Spirit Guide or get in twenty times with Imperial Recruiter (the typical Green-Blue-Black Control deck, for instance has zero basic lands and no way to use a Mountain).

Now no one is really going to place highly in a big tournament doing that, of course; Grymer's plan-plan is the Painter's Servant combination.

You play the Painter, declare everything, say blue (now you can counterspell anything with those Blasts) and presumably, the Grindstone will deck the opponent in one activation.

The mighty Imperial Recruiter can find half the combination (Painter's Servant), a Magus of the Moon to manascrew the opponent, etc.

    Blue-Red-Green Threshold

Ciro Bonaventura's Blue-Red-Green Threshold

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Creature (7)
3 Nimble Mongoose 4 Tarmogoyf
Sorcery (4)
4 Ponder
Other (4)
4 Delver of Secrets++Insectile Aberration
60 Cards

How Does This Deck Work?

Once upon a time, Nimble Mongoose was THE threat of the Legacy format. Impossible to target and playing far bigger than its cost in those pre-Wild Nacatl years, the discounted Mongoose and its buddy Werebear (this was pre-Tarmogoyf as well) ran an impressive CounterSliver hustle; big bodies down early, backed up by counterspells.

What's New?

Ciro's update is probably my favorite answer to the question What's New? in this Top 8... and the answer is Innistrad one-drop Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration. Delver of Secrets is just fantastic in a deck that already plays Ponder and Brainstorm, generating even more value with those already highly valuable manipulation spells, and putting a serious clock on the opponent; backed up by not just counterspells but Lightning Bolts of various stripes.

A different question might be What's Surprising? ... because given the tonnage of Fire // Ice, permission, and general card-drawing goodness, you might expect a Snapcaster Mage from Innistrad, but the one in this case got the nod over the two.

    Bant Counterbalance

Paulo Pavesi's Bant Counterbalance

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How Does This Deck Work?

The lockdown!

If Pavesi can string together Sensei's Divining Top + Counterbalance, he can manipulate the converted mana cost of his top card and deny the opponent the ability to resolve spells. Half of the engine that drove the greatest Legacy deck of all time (some would say the greatest deck of all time) is alive and well in this one.

The card Vedalken Shackles is itself quite the lockdown as well, with a single uncontested Shackles capable of completely taking over a game. How long can a creature deck afford to lose a card a turn—a card that is defending the motherloving opponent—assuming sufficient Islands?

And of course we have Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Is there any more lock-down lockdown than controlling the opponent's top card while we sculpt our own for Counterbalance purposes, denying the appearance of Krosan Grip, or bouncing a creature while we steal another one?

Did I mention that this deck is the lockdown?

What's New?

Again we see a direct beneficiary of the disappearance of Mental Misstep. Sensei's Divining Top is absolutely necessary for the Counterbalance combo to function.

... and boy does it function here.

I hope you enjoyed this little boat trip to the Undying Lands. It's great to see new cards like Snapcaster Mage, Delver of Secrets, and Scavenging Ooze making such an impact on even a huge and—at this point—competitively established format.

Viva new sets!

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