December has been an interesting month for Legacy. Backed by the results of the most recent StarCityGames Opens and Invitational, we've seen a tremendous shift in power in the format anchored by the surge of some nifty Golgari cards from Return to Ravnica. Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay have significantly altered the Legacy landscape over the past month. Invigorating archetypes into relevant status while simultaneously knocking down other contenders, this duo has been instrumental in shaping the metagame and will also be right through the New Year for the first Grand Prix of the year, Grand Prix Denver.
The addition of Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay has had a profound impact in Legacy thus far. This was pretty much expected as the power of both cards was obvious, but I don't believe many people believed the cards would strengthen so many decks so quickly. Granted neither of these cards have a “dominating” nature or anything of the sort, but they do have a tremendous influence on the rest of the format. Of the many decks that I'll be listing below, three of them feature both cards and a prominent BG component, in BUG Delver, BUG Control, and Junk. A month ago I wouldn't have considered any of these decks for Grand Prix Denver as good choices, but these days they all feel like contenders with their new additions. The adoption of Abrupt Decay as the ideal removal spell has been a huge blow to Counterbalance (and by extension UWx Miracles) and gives decks like those mentioned above and also Storm decks a huge leg up in difficult matchups. Deathrite Shaman is now a fantastic maindeckable graveyard hate card, making entire strategies like Reanimator and Dredge more difficult to run, while also neutering cards like Snapcaster Mage, Lingering Souls, and Intuition.
Store.TCGplayer.com allows you to buy cards from any of our vendors, all at the same time! Shop, Compare & Save with TCGplayer.com! - [Store FAQ]
Although this drastic of a change isn't exactly unprecedented territory, it's the first time in recent memory where (beyond the disaster of Grand Prix Columbus and Flash) a major shakeup was introduced so closely to a Grand Prix. That said I'd like to provide an update as to what we can expect the metagame to look like for Denver, what's on the way up and on the way out, and what you should use as a gauntlet for testing in the format. The decklists don't need to be taken as gospel, but they'll provide enough information to go on for a testing gauntlet. I'm not going to cover all the elements of each deck, and I'm not going to cover the entire viable spectrum of Legacy decks (there's simply too many), but I'll at least point you in the right direction in what I believe makes the most sense for this Grand Prix.
BUG burst onto the scene with SCG Baltimore, where it placed four people in the Top 8: two Delver builds and two slower, midrange builds. Although there were a number of differences between the types, there were two new similarities: Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay. There are currently three viable means of building the BUG deck: Delver, midrange, and midrange with Shardless Agents. I'll briefly touch on each of them.
Although the Delver builds were the most successful at first, I'm not a huge fan of them currently. Delver of Secrets is fantastic, but the number of Abrupt Decays is only increasing, which isn't helping it out. I suppose that is good news for Tombstalker, but in a world of Deathrite Shamans, I don't know if that's where you want to be. The BUG Delver builds are still solid and a fine choice (as evidenced by the winning list above), but I fear it will struggle in BUG mirrors against the midrange versions.
The midrange builds replace those aggressive elements for more card advantage and control. There are two means of approaching this: with or without Shardless Agent. Shardless Agent is interesting because it offers a great means of card advantage, either through flipping Ancestral Vision or anything else because the rest of the deck is good. I'm a huge fan of these builds because they are built to overwhelm opponents and take advantage of the strength of each of their cards very well. The non-Agent builds are slower and more controlling, utilizing Liliana of the Veil and a higher Hymn to Tourach count to rip the opponent's hand quickly and limit their resources. I think this build is suited for beating up other control decks, but as I've alluded to already, I see a decline in UWx Miracles because of Abrupt Decay, so I'm not sure how good this actually is.
In my opinion, BUG has now trumped RUG/Canadian Threshold as the premier Tropical Island deck in the format. RUG is still a reasonable choice in the metagame, but it's at a disadvantage against BUG. Deathrite ShamanShrinks Nimble Mongoose, manipulates life totals, and provides a speed boost to get around the deck's tempo elements. Add in the fact that Abrupt Decay kills their creatures with ease while Lightning Bolt might not kill Tarmogoyfs, and that the rest of the deck can go over the top, makes BUG a compelling choice over RUG, regardless of which of the BUG builds you choose.
Additionally, I think the advent of BUG is a response to the success of combo decks like Show and Tell and High Tide. Discard spells backed with a clock or good amount of permission are the best means of fighting those decks, and I think those elements in combination with some solid new cards gave way for these decks to rise.
Junk has always been at least a tier two deck in Legacy, but the Golgari additions make it so much better. It's now a deck that can easily compete with blue deck for resources, as well as overwhelm aggro decks. Matt Pavlic's list demonstrates this well, utilizing the best cards in Junk's colors to create a solid midrange plan. This combination is extremely well-positioned currently, as it has all the tools to combat control, aggro, and other midrange decks. It's also one of the few decks to actually use Pernicious Deed, one of the formats best and most underused sweepers. I imagine we'll see more of them in play though as the format evolves.
Although I think this decklist may be a little outdated, it remains a great starting point for any players who want to walk into Denver with the Golgari combo without sleeving up Underground Seas.
Elves is one of those decks that's always been viable in Legacy, even good, but disrespected and underrepresented. Now that they've been given a ridiculously good new elf, things may change. The addition of Deathrite Shaman in Elves is natural; it's a mana producer that also provides other dimensions to the elf deck. Glimpse of Nature is still the main plan, but at least you're now given a Grim Lavamancer to screw around with the opponent. Given the strength of the card, it can nearly carry the Elf deck alone, not to mention become a magnet for removal to save your other important creatures. I'm surprised by the lack of Abrupt Decay in Leon Kornacki's list given the weakness to Counterbalance and Engineered Plague, and the lack of Gaea's Cradle as a Living Wish target, but the deck is great when not sitting across from those cards. It can easily run over the blue decks and other aggro decks not prepared for it.
Obviously that was an odd assortment of decks above (BUG and Elves?) but it demonstrated those that got significantly better just from the Golgari cards alone. Let's look at the other players for Denver, now with the assortment of combo decks.
Despite the fact that The Epic Storm (TES) and ANT are very different, their similarities allow them to be categorized together. Tendrils strategies have gotten a huge boost from Abrupt Decay, dispelling their biggest problems in Counterbalance and Chalice of the Void. Although it can be tough on their mana, Abrupt Decay is well worth the strain to automatically deal with their killer cards. Additionally, with the rise of BUG, and subsequent declining popularity of RUG, Tendrils decks are favorable choices for Denver because they can handle opposing discard (and a slower clock) far better than the aggressiveness and tempo game of RUG.
Although Show and Tell is arguably the most popular combo deck in Legacy, I think Tendrils is the best and most likely to succeed at Denver. The metagame is just reaching a point where things are going right for it as bad matchups are decreasing, so if you plan on attending Denver I'd definitely prepare for these decks or at least keep them in mind, otherwise you'll get blown out.
As mentioned above, Show and Tell is still the most popular combo deck, and often regarded as the format's premier combo deck. At this point in time, I don't really have a preference between Sneak Attack and Omniscience builds. For a while I was a proponent of Omniscience as I liked the flexibility in kills and resiliency, but Sneak Attack is still proving to be just as potent so I can't discredit it.
I'm happy to see that Richard Centanni adopted Flusterstorm; the card is ridiculous! For a while I've seen Show and Tell decks bypass it, which just didn't make sense to me. Flusterstorm is instrumental is resolving your spells or fighting opposing discard, and it's one of the best spells to be bringing into Denver for combo players given the rising popularity of discard spells. If I were to bring Show and Tell to the event, I'd want at least three Flusterstorms, and would consider running the fourth. It's just too important of a card to skimp on, and at this point it's pulling more weight than Red Elemental Blast or Spell Pierce.
High Tide saw a surge in success over October and November, but I don't believe it will carry that into the New Year. The popularity of discard like Thoughtseize and Hymn to Tourach, put High Tide in a difficult position. From a meta perspective, High Tide isn't favored. The other combo decks (Tendrils, Show and Tell) are faster, and BUG isn't a great matchup due to the discard. On the flip side, Counterbalance is waning, and High Tide has a positive matchup against virtually everything else. I believe High Tide needs to adjust if it wants to continue its fall success, and be able to handle discard and combo more consistently if it wants to pull ahead in Denver. Whether that means some additional counters or some new tech remains to be seen, but I wouldn't count the deck out by any means.
Those are the only combo decks I see as significant players, so let's go onto the other blue decks.
As I mentioned earlier, I think RUG was dethroned as the format's defining Tropical Island deck. With the lack of Deathrite Shaman as a resource and an uncounterable removal spell, RUG has difficulty competing against that. However, that doesn't mean the deck isn't in good shape. Outside of the BUG matchup, the rest of its matchups are pretty much the same. It still boasts a favorable combo matchup, and with Counterbalance decreasing can only improve its control matchup. I still view RUG as one of the format's top decks, and time will tell if the lack of the Golgari cards will make a difference to this once-intimidating deck.
If you haven't guessed by now, I'm not very high on Miracles right now. Well, in reality I'm just not high on Counterbalance, but the only deck running it is this one, so by extension I'm not high on the deck itself. For a while UW Miracles has been a rising star in Legacy, aided by a mix of fantastic control elements and card advantage. However with Abrupt Decay not only being a card, but the card right now, half of the deck's strength is practically gone. Without Counterbalance, this deck has difficulty with anything that can comfortably play in the mid-late game. Additionally, Deathrite Shaman can come into play before Counterbalance and be an extreme nuisance for the deck.
Now, I don't think you should dismiss this deck at all, but I think it needs a bit of a facelift going into Denver. In its current state it'll struggle against the BUG and combo decks, which will compose of a good portion of the field. However, its strength against RUG, aggro, and a random field still make it a fine choice.
I'll also note that the list above is just one of a few varieties. There are numerous builds cramming Stoneforge Mystic in it, as well as other builds forgoing creatures entirely for the Rest in Peace/Helm of Obedience combo.
The last of the blue decks, Stoneforge Mystic decks are still in existence. Although this has been a format pillar for a lengthy period of time, I've admittedly not tested enough with the deck in the current format (aka, test against BUG) to determine where it stands. My gut tells me that it's still a great choice despite the difficulties of having Stoneforge Mystic survive or flashing back a Lingering Souls. The combination of control elements, discard, card advantage, and Stoneforge Mystic is still too strong to think otherwise. I will say though that I don't believe we'll be seeing many, if any of these builds without either a black or red splash now. The strength of combo decks is just too high for this deck to compete if left strictly to UW.
We'll round out the remainder of the gauntlet with a couple fair decks.
Goblins is arguably the strongest aggro deck currently, and the most broken. I also believe it's very well-positioned because of its favorable BUG matchup. Although Goblin Lackey gets blocked by Deathrite Shaman, the rest of the deck can be overwhelming. Cavern of Souls laughs at blue decks and Counterbalance, and the deck has enough card advantage to bust through aggro stalemates. The weak combo matchup can be concerning, but given the strength of Goblins' other matchups, I'd feel pretty good about walking into Denver with the deck. With some fine-tuning of the sideboard and some good choices for its maindeck Matron bullets, the deck can be poised for a deep run.
Long considered the best (and sometimes only) aggro deck in Legacy, Maverick has recently taken a back seat in the format. Terminus has just been a massive beating for Maverick, and the deck's abysmal combo matchup, even with the likes Thalia or Gaddock Teeg, doesn't help its case. However, if my prediction of the decline of Miracles is accurate, then Maverick could be a good player again. Unfortunately, the deck neither utilizes Abrupt Decay or Deathrite Shaman, so that leads me to some possible conclusions here:
Run the deck as is, and tune it to beat the decks that run those cards, as well as Overload the sideboard for combo matchups.
Modify the deck to run those cards, because they are insane and can improve the deck.
Just play Junk, which is in the same colors and already features a better combo matchup.
3a. Run some ugly Junk/Maverick hybrid; brew the hell out of a non-blue, non-combo deck.
I don't know what the best option is there, so I guess we can just roll a die to choose. I hope it lands on two.
To sum up what I think you should be testing with and against for Grand Prix Denver:
BUG (Tempo/Delver, Midrange, and Shardless)
UWx Stone-Blade (Esper or UWr)
The Epic Storm/ANT High Tide Show and Tell (Omniscience/ Sneak Attack)
These decks just make the most sense to play currently, based on results and projections. I know there could be some snubs that seem like they could be good choices (e.g. Merfolk, Zombardment, Enchantress, etc.), and they possibly can be, but these decks are the most likely to be seen and are the best to consider playing. Likewise, I would recommend staying away from any heavy graveyard-related strategies, like Reanimator or Dredge. It's a sign not to play them when a large portion of the format is running a graveyard hate creature in the maindeck. Reanimator was already on the decline, and Dredge essentially had a nail put in its coffin. Between Deathrite Shaman and Rest in Peace, these decks are horribly positioned right now.
I will also mention that it'll be wise not to dismiss other budget decks that are generally popular for Legacy Grand Prix, such as Affinity or Burn. These might not necessarily be the best decks in Legacy, but they are viable, and more importantly, cheap. This makes them attractive for those who aren't fully invested in the format. It might not be as important to test against them as the others, but be aware that you could play against them and it couldn't hurt to get some games in just to be safe.
Hopefully this list helps you round out your testing session gauntlet, and I hope to see you in Denver!
Thanks for reading!
All original content herein is Copyright 2014 Ascension Gaming Network, Inc. TCGplayer and MaxPoint are trademarks of Ascension Gaming Network, Inc.