Magic: the Filibustering

Are you a Quiet Speculation member?

If not, now is a perfect time to join up! Our powerful tools, breaking-news analysis, and exclusive Discord channel will make sure you stay up to date and ahead of the curve.

With Pro Tour: Paris in the books and the Washington, D.C. Open coming up, Standard is currently in major flux, while Legacy seems to have stabilized somewhat from the last two Opens. Let's take this one format at a time.

Caw-Blade is currently sitting pretty as the best deck in Standard thanks to the introduction of Sword of Feast and Famine, but Kuldotha Red is capable of running it over before giving it a chance to do anything. Granted, Kuldotha Red can pretty much run over anything that isn't playing Forked Bolt or Arc Trail, so that's not too much of a knock against Caw-Blade. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas has made appearances in multiple forms now, but the knowledge that it's a real deck and people should be playing artifact hate probably weakens it somewhat. Valakut didn't do nearly as well in Paris as it did in Indianapolis, and its presence in the metagame is likely to drop considerably in the near term.

On top of that, people are proposing all sorts of wacky things to attack this format from new angles, or to attack certain decks directly.
Ari Lax's stupid Red deck has been going around the internet a bit as of this writing:

This deck, while better than most people will give it credit for (typical - mono Red never gets enough credit), can't possibly beat Leyline of Sanctity (which is played heavily thanks to Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle) or Kor Firewalker (which isn't being played at all). The splash damage from peoples' sideboarding plans renders this thing useless unless you come up with a better plan. If you're going to be on Elemental Appeal, you should probably be on Zektar Shrine Expedition and a full 8 red fetchlands first. That said, maxing out on both instead of some of the targeted burn is probably a solid plan if you insist on playing this deck, since at least those actually serve a purpose post-Leyline. I like a good Red deck, but this isn't it. I think Brozek's version of Kuldotha Red is the Red deck I'd want to be on, and that's one of the decks I may actually play this weekend.

Ari Lax's White Weenie:

This deck is a variation on Caw-Blade, only with the goal of beating the mirror by means of added aggression in place of the sweepers, Gideons, and some of the countermagic from the stock list. The list is admittedly rough in Lax's estimation, and I agree. It's definitely an intriguing possibility - I've had a discussion on Twitter about the proper number of counterspells in this deck. Trading in counterspells for early action is similar to trading counterspells for sweepers in that it gains value against Aggro while losing it against Combo/Ramp; but the early action is, at least in theory, favorable against other Control decks. The problem here is that Steppe Lynx isn't a lot of help against something like Kuldotha Red, and neither is Mirran Crusader. Mirran Crusader gains a lot of value against Vampires, but Lynx doesn't help a lot. If I were to approach things from this angle, I'd start with Naoki Nakada's deck:

Journey to Nowhere and Into the Roil should probably be cut at this point, and can be replaced with more Stoneforges or Mana Leaks. The “no-countermagic” gambit has been publicized now, and if you try to shave too low on countermagic people will just dare you to cast it. The alternative is cutting the countermagic altogether and play it as a pure tap-out deck, much like Super Friends last year, with Squadron Hawks and Stoneforges as replacements for the missing Planeswalkers.
The best part of this approach is you can board in a large number of counterspells and catch people by surprise, then force them to play chicken game 3. Sideboards that alter the strategy of the deck are better than sideboards that attack individual cards. More on this later, when I start talking about Legacy.

I personally find Venser greedy and wouldn't run it. A third Gideon would give you a lot more upside against aggro, more counterspells would give you a better chance at taking game 1 against ramp decks.

A word about this sideboard: Luminarch Ascension is pretty much the worst card you can be playing for the Control mirror these days. It might work out against Tezzeret, but when control decks are playing 8 2-drops, you're not likely to get 4 turns in a row undamaged, especially not when Leonin Relic-Warder exists. People are currently on Divine Offering, but I'm of the opinion that the hate bear is much better choice right now.

If you're on Caw-Blade of any form, Sun Titan is pretty much the best top-end card at this point, and you should absolutely be playing it in your 75: it brings back Ratchet Bomb, Tectonic Edge, fetchlands, Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, Spreading Seas, Swords. That's basically everything that matters except the Planeswalkers. Let's break it down by matchup:

Against anything, you can get back a Stoneforge Mystic or Squadron Hawk that's been killed to set off its trigger. You can actually put back your last 2 Hawks on a Brainstorm and play Titan as your Ancestral Recall, instead of putting back one Hawk and playing the other. It doesn't come up often, but when it does there's not much left to do. Of course, getting back Mystic to get another piece of equipment means you've got to be running the extra equipment.

In the mirror, they're likely bringing in Divine Offering, Kor Sanctifiers, or both. Being able to get back your Sword after it's blown up is extremely good and can easily swing a game. Sun Titan gives you the advantage in the Tectonic Edge versus Celestial Colonnade battle.

Against decks like Tezzeret, you can bring back Relic-Warder if you've got him, Swords if they've been blown up, or a dead Mystic to get another equipment.

Against ramp, bringing back a [card="Acidic Slime"]Slimed[/card] Seas or Tectonic Edges is critical at keeping [card="Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle"]Valakut[/card] from killing you.

Against Aggro, bringing back Ratchet Bomb is a nail in the coffin.

Let's talk about Stoneforge Mystic for a bit. The precise list of targets for Mystic are not static. Sword of Feast and Famine is a given. There's no way around that. After that, the rest depends on your deck rather than some mystical list like this: “First, Sword of Feast and Famine. Second, Sword of Body and Mind. Third, Sylvok Lifestaff.”

Don't be that guy. The only constant is Sword of Feast and Famine. If your deck is soft to Aggro because your only sweeper is Day of Judgment, you'll want Sylvok Lifestaff. If your deck is strong against Aggro, you'll want more of the big Swords. If you're hybridizing the deck with Quest for the Holy Relic, you want Argentum Armor. If you're planning on playing against the mirror, you actually want a second Sword of Feast and Famine (at least post-board) since people will be packing artifact removal now. I personally would rather play the second Feast and Famine over the first Body and Mind at this point, but the mill effect is actually capable of single-handedly beating Valakut decks. One of my losses at Indy came from not having any Forests to get off my fetchland, followed by my opponent using a Tectonic Edge to take away my Raging Ravine, leaving me with no sources of Green on my battlefield, in my hand, or in my graveyard.

Shaheen Soorani: Caw-Blade Polymorph

This takes the opposite approach from Ari Lax's build, opting to trade the Tectonic Edges for Khalni Gardens, and deciding to combo-kill with Mass Polymorph. On paper, the loss of sweepers makes it notably worse against Aggro, and the loss of Tectonic Edge forces a jump to the full set of Spreading Seas. I haven't had the chance to test with or against this deck, but it's definitely worth keeping in mind that you can just get blown out by Iona. I think I'd rather have Sun Titan at 6 instead of something which can be hit by Spell Pierce, but Mass Polymorph does effectively end the game immediately.

With all this talk, I had better put up a list of my own. This is the 75 I've got sleeved up, but by Saturday (I'm writing this on Tuesday) it's likely I'll be at least 5 cards off.

The sideboard definitely isn't there yet, and I will be very happy if I can play something other than Leyline against Valakut (Flashfreeze is a possibility, though Summoning Trap is a problem). As you can see, I've tried to split the difference between Stark's list and Nakada's by running 4 counterspells- enough to draw them reasonably often, but not so many that I end up just sitting on them and hoping to draw action.

The singleton Deprive is a nod to the fact that I prefer hard counters to Mana Leak, but drawing double Deprive is pretty much the worst thing possible.

The deck is designed to gain added value against Aggro (via additional sweepers and more Gideons) and Ramp (by running a full set of Edges and 3 Seas, while trusting my sweepers and Gideon to deal with Titan and Avenger) so that the equipment/creature layout can be brought to pointed squarely at the mirror. This build displays the full 4 Stoneforges to maximize my chances of landing one on turn 2, a matched pair of Swords in case one gets blown up, Sun Titan to bring back the best stuff in the mirror, and Gideon to protect against the Sword's ability. The truth is that the Valakut and Tezzeret matchups get weaker with the loss of some of the countermagic. The sideboard can be set up to solve that problem, but I'm not really satisfied with this sideboard, even with the Secret Tech. For one thing, I probably have too much Aggro hate, and it's likely I should be boarding in some Divine Offerings as well. (Unfortunately, I think too many people are on Sun Titan for that to be correct, but it is solid against Tezzeret.) Tumble Magnet is a notable exclusion, and that is quite possibly incorrect. If I can bank on a drop in Kuldotha Red play, the Ratchet Bombs would all go to the sideboard, letting me Tumble some Primeval Titans.

I've seen in several places a claim that Elves is an awful matchup for Caw-Blade. This is likely true - it can outswarm us, they don't really care about Sword of Feast and Famine, and Eldrazi Monument coming down ahead of Day of Judgment is game over. Luckily, Caw-Blade has access to all sorts of artifact hate, as well as Ratchet Bomb, so if you're expecting Elves rather than the mirror you can make it a favorable matchup with some minor tweaks. Leonin Relic-Warder is a perfectly maindeckable card, if it comes to that, and also has relevance against Tezzeret decks and the mirror. He can even nullify random Adventuring Gear against Boros, though the effect of that will likely be short-lived. Kuldotha Red can be vulnerable to a well-timed 2/2 that blows up a Mox Opal or a Chimeric Mass, and Glint Hawk Idol decks aren't playing very many answers to the Relic-Warder. I'm actually looking to find a way to fit in Relic-Warder anyway, since he answers the Tumble Magnet people are now leaning on to stop Sworded Hawks from hitting. Phyrexian Revoker can fill a similar role, but he's awkward in the mirror since they're doing the same thing you are, but it does stop Elvish Archdruid and Ezuri, Renegade Leader.

People are bringing up Pyromancer Ascension again. It is the worst possible time to do so, since the deck hasn't actually gained anything, and the artifact hate people are now starting to play is going to cause splash damage to Pyromancer. Avoid.

It might actually be time to take Caw-Blade and cut the Preordains and Jaces for Fauna Shaman and Vengevine. This would look sort of like Kibler's Caw-Vine deck from GP:ATL, with Mirran Crusader in the 3-slot where Knight of the Reliquary was, and would look to play the various hate bears: Relic-Warder, Phyrexian Revoker, a singleton Memnite to bring back Vengevine, Kor Firewalker out of the board, Leonin Arbiter (which is far too awkward to play a full set of in a Hawk/Mystic deck), and the like.

Alternatively, the deck could switch gears and become a full-fledged Aggro deck, aiming for consistency rather than the crazy starts of Quest-centric White Weenie decks. Leonin Skyhunter was good enough to see Constructed play the last time around, and can certainly carry a Sword. Mirran Crusader's double strike is nuts with equipment in general. This build would probably want to play 1 of each Sword and possibly other stuff- Sword of Vengeance is a pretty straightforward piece of face-smashery, Bonehoard is a fetchable Lhurgoyf, and if the manabase is bland, Strata Scythe makes anything massive. In fact, if your deck is all Plains, you probably want Scythe over Sword of Vengeance.

That's enough about Standard.

With the banning of Survival, the new metagame is once again “Merfolk, Goblins, Zoo, Counterbalance”, which is the same boring format it was before it got all interesting. I'm hoping that things get shaken up, but I'm convinced that it's not feasible to try to run a pure-cantrip version of ANT any longer. Grim Tutor is needed just to try to hit Krosan Grip for Counterbalance post-board, and while the deck was good enough to put me in the top 16 of Nashville, I couldn't do any better than 4-4 over the side event and main event in Indy. The awkward draws are more awkward now that you can't just chain cantrips all day. You really want that turn 3 win against Goblins or Zoo, else your life total becomes too low to reasonably Ad Nauseam for the win. As such, the deck either has to be built around Ill-Gotten Gains or Doomsday. The Shelldock Isle-Emrakul setup doesn't exactly play well with Ad Nauseam or the Dark Confidants that you sideboard, so Doomsday is a bit awkward.

The list I played in Nashville ran a transformational sideboard that I shouldn't have. It wasn't needed against Survival or Zoo, and it doesn't work properly against Merfolk or Dreadstill. As such, I went 1-5 in games where I brought in the sideboard. The fact that it was a suboptimal list of 15 creatures didn't help matters any.

The new metagame is one where the transformational board might actually work again. Consider playing against an Ad Nauseam deck which maindecks Dark Confidant over some of the cantrips, then boards in 4 Phyrexian Negator, 4 Tarmogoyf, 4 Sea Drake, 3 Vendilion Clique. That's a scary list of 19 creatures to be facing down when you've taken out your creature removal in favor of Stifles or Duress, and 19 creatures, 4 of which are [card Dark Confidant]Bobs[/card], plus 8 cantrips and 4 Infernal Tutors (which can tutor for a second copy of any creature in hand) means the deck will keep them coming at a rapid clip. A Dark Ritual can set up a [card="Dark Confidant"]Bob[/card] or Negator on turn one, a Lotus Petal or Chrome Mox can set up a Bob or Tarmogoyf turn one, or they can set up a Sea Drake on turn 2.

-4 Lion's Eye Diamond
-4 Cabal Ritual
-1 Ad Nauseam
-2 Tendrils of Agony
-1 Ill-Gotten Gains
-3 Duress/Thoughtseize (remember, Vendilion Clique comes in), or perhaps some Infernal Tutors
+15 hard-hitting face-beaters

That seems like it'd be a pretty savage beating to a Counterbalance deck that boarded out its Firespouts/Moats/[card="Humility"]Humilities[/card], doesn't it? The question is whether it's worth it against Merfolk and their Umezawa's Jittes, and that's a difficult question to answer. Obviously trading Ponder for Bob makes the Zoo and Goblins matchup a tiny percentage worse, but making Counterbalance winnable at all post-board is worth it. Xantid Swarm just isn't good enough there (though it is amazing against Merfolk).

On a related note, the Legacy metagame is ripe for a comeback or two. Let's look at the top 8 of Indy:

Ben Weinberg, RUG Counter-Top: 2 Trinket Mages that can get 1 Relic of Progenitus out of the board.
Michael Bomholt, Forgemaster Combo: 0
Brian Fisher, Junk and Taxes: 2 Extirpate and 1 Bojuka Bog in his sideboard. 4 Knight of the Reliquary to get the Bog.
Josh Guibalt, Counter-Top Thopter: 1 Tormod's Crypt sideboard, 1 Wheel of Sun and Moon sideboard. Both fetchable by 4 Enlightened Tutor that detract from his ability to fetch his combo.
Alex Bertoncini, Merfolk: 0
Josh Rayden, Show and Tell: 0
Drew Levin, NO Top: 0
Phil Jones, Goblins: 3 Leyline of the Void

If you want to play Dredge or Reanimator, now's the time. The format is extremely soft to graveyard abuse, and it's a great deal more resilient to Counterbalance than Ad Nauseam is.

Moat and Ensnaring Bridge both pose problems. Iona, Shield of Emeria is the obvious out to the Moat, but Bridge is an issue for Reanimator. Dredge can get around it by letting Iona lock them out of playing their cards then swinging for lethal with the small dudes, but that's awkward if they have removal in multiple colors. I wouldn't be shocked to see Dredge decks setting up Necrotic Ooze wins, and Buried Alive plus any reanimation spell is an instant win. Intuition can get there, but requires a discard outlet. Careful Study and Putrid Imp are already in the deck, so it's possible that the deck can achieve a great deal of consistency. This, of course, sacrifices speed, as Entomb plus any mana acceleration allows for a turn one Reanimate or Exhume. I think Reanimator decks are probably better off focusing on the turn one or two fatty rather than the Ooze kill, but Dredge should strongly consider fitting in the full trio of Necrotic Ooze, Triskelion, and Phyrexian Devourer.

Other than that interesting tidbit, I don't find Legacy all that interesting at the moment. I feel as though the Counterbalance/Aether Vial setup is stifling the format from both directions at the same time. I really think the full set of Mystical Tutor, Survival of the Fittest, Counterbalance/Sensei's Divining Top (pick one), and Aether Vial should be banned or legalized as a single uniform block. The Mystical ban combined with the Vengevine and Fauna Shaman printings to make Survival the top deck. The Survival ban let Counterbalance be a factor again, which brought Vial to the forefront. The Mystical ban and the resurgence of Vial Merfolk and Counterbalance means combo isn't really viable.

The cost of Grim Tutor and Imperial Recruiter means that ANT and Painter-Stone are only playable by those willing to put big bucks down on decks that aren't actually putting up numbers right now, so the decks aren't getting tuned by the Magic hive mind. I suspect the price of Moat is a massive part of the reason why Red and Green Counterbalance decks are seeing more play than White. It's not just a cost issue - it's a card availability issue. SCG themselves are out of Grim Tutors. They only have 3 Imperial Recruiters in stock. Even if I wanted to play ANT in SCG DC, there's a good chance that no matter what I'd be willing to pay, I wouldn't be able to get Grim Tutors. I couldn't get a full set of Recruiters for Painter-Stone. This is a problem for Legacy, even moreso than the skyrocketing cost of dual lands. Moat and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale can't be reprinted with the new strict Reserve list, but the Portal 3 Kingdoms and Starter 1999 cards aren't actually limited by the Reserve List, and Wizards needs to find a way to reprint them for the health of the format - or relegate Legacy to the same backwater that Vintage is. If Legacy continues to grow in popularity, widespread staples such as dual lands will begin to put a stranglehold on card availability. Legacy players are actually fortunate that all the really rare and expensive cards turned out to be niche role players. Had something widely-played, such as Swords to Plowshares, or the centerpiece to a deck, such as Natural Order, appeared only in Portal 3 Kingdoms or Starter 1999, it's unlikely that the format would have survived to this point.

Joshua Justice

5 thoughts on “Magic: the Filibustering

Join the conversation

Want Prices?

Browse thousands of prices with the first and most comprehensive MTG Finance tool around.

Trader Tools lists both buylist and retail prices for every MTG card, going back a decade.