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Survival of the Fittest: or, How I Learned to Love the Game

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[Note: James wrote this article during the last week. Keep an eye out for today's DCI Banned/Restricted List update announcement, but Survival's status has very little impact on the message of this article. Enjoy! -Dylan]

Hello! My name is James Madonna, and I'd like to welcome you all to Quiet Speculation! As for me, I have a quick list of notable qualities about myself for those that want it (some more evident than others): 1. Canadian, 2. Junior in college, 3. Loves to sling cardboard. I can be found grinding amongst the the crowd in PTQs around Pennsylvania, trying to earn my chance at the Pro Tour. However, outside of PTQs, you can always find me playing the Eternal formats, with a heavy focus on Legacy, the best format around. 🙂 This is where my articles will focus on. Whenever you see one of my articles, you can expect it to be on said format, as it is the fastest growing currently. But enough jib-jab!, let's delve into the reading.

Survival of the Fittest
Will there be an Exodus of Survival from Legacy?

Legacy, for being a format of so many cards, ends up boiling down to just a few amazing strategies from its vast card pool. The problem that comes with being a player of the format is that we have to wade through the unexpected and sometimes brilliant innovations people come up with. This generally leads to the establishment of new decks in the metagame, with some decks being amazingly consistent and format dominating like Jund was in last year's Standard.

Unlike Standard, nothing rotates in Legacy. We players can't just say that it will be gone next year. The card pool is there and the only way to fix a problem is to ban or restrict it. These changes generally come when the DCI deem the card in question to be too dominating, e.g., Mystical Tutor. These banning updates are certainly needed in some instances, but they are not a catch-all for problems in any format.

Getting right to a glaring "problem," Survival of the Fittest has always been a spectacular (read as "Unfair") card to play against. With that said, it was beatable then and it's still beatable now. With the current thought that it will be banned, I want to take a different look at reasons why the Green enchantment should stay and what my ludicrous reasoning is behind it.

Vengevine
Or will Vengevine head to the bin... forever?

Foolproof Plan to alleviating a situation:

Step #1: Find a problem.

Step #2: Fix IT!

(This is a joke but you get the point)

No magic deck tries to play fair. Magic decks are made to not be fair. They want to gain an advantage any way possible and the methods often boil down to breaking a fundamental of the game, and this is the game plan for all Legacy decks. The catch being is that they must do it very well.

Survival, at the end of the day, is just a card. The recent printing of Vengevine has currently "busted" said card, but last I checked, it's a piece of cardboard that people sling. True, its hard beating a first turn Lion's Eye Diamond, dumping your hand to cast two Basking Rootwalla while returning two Vengevines, but so is a first turn Tendrils of Agony or Goblin Charbelcher, and just like the aforementioned two, countering key cards can be enough to throw off the Survival player's game plan.

If Counterspells are not your forte or your preferred play style, there are other options that do exist. Say you like bashing with dudes in the form of Zoo or Goblins, for example. Your game plan is pretty straightforward: you're off to the races. You need to apply pressure at all times. Goblins have a rougher time due to the lack of removal, but Wasteland, Goblin Lackey and Rishadan Port go a long way at slowing down the green monster. Zoo has nutty amount of removal, so it's business as usual: play the best cheap creatures, make a hole, and swing.

And if you prefer to play more non-interactive decks, be it prison or combo, the matchup is quite obvious: just do your thing. Survival is going to play their game and you play yours. Chances are, if you play tight, you should win, especially versus the Necrotic Ooze variant. Trinisphere in Stax, Elephant Grass in Enchantress, Glacial Chasm in Lands!, or even belching with Belcher for 20 are all fine ways of dealing with your opponent.

Ethersworn Canonist
I swear, I can stop those angry plants!

Sometimes though, you cannot fit all the hate in the main 60, so you need then to turn to the sideboard. The obvious way to beat any deck is to have a plan against it, but time and time again, improper sideboarding is a key problem with playing competitive Magic. Survival is a graveyard abuser. Ways to disrupt that lie in almost every single sideboard and is a good place to start for not only Survival, but Lands! and Dredge to name a few. A great example of a card that can shut down many things in Survival is Extirpate.

Turns out creatures have been printed that are applicable too. Ethersworn Canonist (a.k.a. Arcane Laboratory/Rule of Law on legs) is pretty good at preventing a player from casting two creatures in one turn. Peacekeeper is another creature receiving play due to its ability to shut down hasty 4/3s as well, among other things.

I can go on and on with cards that are applicable, but that promotes lazy players. If you take anything from this article, it is this: Play smart. There are plenty of options out there to fight any deck. Fact: Survival is a dominating force right now. Fact: Have a game plan for it. Looking at the last 4 SCG Opens, the top 8s have literally been dominated (50 percent!) by Survival decks. If it doesn't receive the ban hammer, flavors of Survival decks will continue to dominate until it's kicked off of its pedestal, and until then, we will have to deal with it and continue to fight on.

- James Madonna

yawgmothsfolly at gmailDOTcom

One thought on “Survival of the Fittest: or, How I Learned to Love the Game

  1. Good job with the first article, Mr. Madonna. I think you covered most of the common ways to deal with Survival, but the list is huge. Players can always find random pieces that can deal with the deck right in their own junk card boxes at home. Phyrexian Furnace, Scrabing Claws and Morningtide are some lower powered hate while Pithing Needle, Yxiilid Jailer and Ravenous Trap are other high powered ways of dealing with it.

    Again, good opener and hope to see more. 🙂

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