Beyond the Threshold
By Nick Burns on June 25th, 2008 · Filed in Legacy (Type 1.5) · Comments not available just now
In Legacy, currently, one deck is king: Threshold. Threshold is an Aggro-Control deck that will either counter spells and use cantrips to find what they need, or drop a cheap but fat creature and start killing the opponent with it.
Threshold was born as Miracle Grow by Alan Comer for the old T1.5 format. Comer played aggressive merfolk and Quirion Dryad, in a low land, high cantrip package. This was very successful against Combo and Control decks but suffered against Aggro decks. This problem was solved by adding more green for Werebear and Wild Mongrel. When T1 and T1.5 split into Vintage and Legacy, Gro became Threshold and was still one of the most potent decks of the format. Newer sets have also been kind to Threshold, giving it gems such as Tarmogoyf and Counterbalance/Sensei's Divining Top, as well as many more optional cards.
Threshold is very adaptable. By splashing different colours, the deck can be changed hugely. On the UG base, any other colours can be splashed, with even multiple colours being splashable without problems. In this article, I will go over the most popular of the many possible ways of building Threshold.
The basic shell of Threshold is UG, using the following cards:
Brainstorm – The most played card in Legacy, Brainstorm helps dig very efficiently and has especially good synergy with the Fetchlands Thresh runs.
Arguably the best card in Legacy
Ponder – Like Brainstorm but at sorcery speed, Ponder is a new staple for Thresh.
Force of Will – FoW stops early combos and can handle threats efficiently.
Daze – Despite being lackluster late game, Daze has lots of uses early on in handling opposing threats, removal, or counters.
Nimble Mongoose – A 3/3 for isn't bad, but the fact Mongoose invalidates a lot of opposing removal is even nicer.
Tarmogoyf – Tarmogoyf is the best creature around, even when not in a shell that helps him as much as Thresh does.
Dual Lands and Fetchlands - These allow 3 colour decks easily, and can push up to 4 or even 5 colours. They are necessary for Threshold.
From this base, you can build in many directions. Most builds use Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top to create a wall of counters that is tough to play around. Other cards which can be run regardless of colour combination are:
Predict – Predict is not only a source of card advantage, but it can also remove a useless card from a Brainstorm or Top.
Opt – Opt has recently been replaced by Ponder, but can be used in straight UG builds.
Mental Note - Mental Note has fallen to the wayside recently, but it's still a cheap source of card advantage.
Fact or Fiction – While expensive, Fact or Fiction is one of the best card advantage spells of the format.
Jace Beleren - Jace draws multiple cards throughout the game if you can protect him. If you can't, then he's a single card and a semi fog.
Counterspell – Counterspell is not usually necessary, but more counters can hurt some decks.
Stifle – Stifle can be used to stop Fetchlands, Pernicious Deed, Counterbalance, and multiple other relevant cards in the format.
Spell Snare – Spell Snare counters Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and other relevant cards.
Counterbalance - Counterbalance and Top can kill many strategies and make an immovable wall of counters.
The most hated card in the history
Sensei's Divining Top - Top smooths your draw and combos with Counterbalance.
Force Spike – Force Spike is almost another Daze, used in UG without a splash, but rarely otherwise.
Rushing River/Wipe Away – Bounce not often used, but is excellent in Tempo builds. Bounce can be used to remove whatever is necessary.
Disrupt – Disrupt is a clever trick that can be very annoying against removal or counterspells.
Misdirection – Misdirection is like Disrupt with a Force of Will cost; however with Force of Will in the same deck, your hand often empties too quickly.
Submerge – Submerge works against a lot of the format, removing critters so you can attack unhindered.
Hail Storm – Hail Storm answers Goblins and other Weenies, although Red has much better options for this in Pyroclasm.
Tormod's Crypt – Crypt helps fight Ichorid, which is one of Thresh's worst matchups. Crypt also helps against Loam and other graveyard decks.
Wheel of Sun and Moon – Another possibility against Ichorid and graveyard decks. Where Crypt is a one-time effect, Wheel is a permanent solution (but it is more expensive).
Leyline of the Void – Leyline, like Wheel, is a permanent solution, but it is required to be in the opening hand, else it is a dead card for the rest of the game.
Umezawa's Jitte - Jitte powers your creatures over opposing creatures and can deal with bunches of weaker creatures.
Vedalken Shackles - Shackles control creatures and threats. Due to the small amount of lands Thresh runs, Shackles is generally better in Landstill but can be played in Thresh.
Engineered Explosives – Explosives can answer whatever is threatening. Due to Sunburst, Explosives are more potent the more colours that are run.
Pithing Needle - Needle has many targets to name and can be boarded in against anything where you fear activated abilities. Common Needle targets are Mishra's Factory, Pernicious Deed, or any Fetchlands that your opponent has in play.
Winter Orb - Winter Orb is useful against any deck that requires a large number of lands to operate.
Trygon Predator - Trygon Predator is a good way to deal with Artifacts and Enchantments as well as being a beater in the air.
Werebear – Werebear is mostly outdated due to bigger or more efficient creatures (Tarmogoyf), but he is still a 4/4 for 2.
Quirion Dryad – Dryad is also not used so much due to Tarmogoyf, but she can still grow to very large sizes.
Swans of Bryn Argoll – Swans of Bryn Argoll are an excellent size and a non-restrictive mana cost, and they could become a new staple for Threshold.
Sea Drake - Drake is a newly explored option, which is a good size at a good cost.
Serendib Efreet - Serendib Efreet is a reasonable replacement for Sea Drake and has the advantage of both surviving a Bolt and a less sharp drawback, at the price of a slower clock.
Wasteland – Usually played in versions more focused on tempo, Wasteland is excellent mana denial and hits 90% of decks.
With these cards in mind, we can build a basic UG Threshold deck.
All your Fetchland are belong to Stifle
While it lacks some of the stronger options given by splashing a colour, this UG version makes up for it by being excellent at control. The manabase is very stable, so it can afford to run wastelands. Dryad especially excels in this deck, as it can chain large numbers of cantrips into each other and can easily become as large a threat as Goyf. This deck concentrates a lot on tempo and so doesn't run Counterbalance/Top, as it requires a lot of setup and slows the deck down quite a lot.
This version has an extremely strong combo matchup, due to the large number of counters and cantrips, as well as a reasonable clock. It's weaker than most Threshold decks against Aggro however, as it lacks Counterbalance, or a permanently strong, fat creature, such as Mystic Enforcer or Swans of Bryn Argoll. In the Aggro Control mirror it is not bad, as it can counter more than its opponents can; but it's weak on removal, and a single Counterbalance can ruin the game for it completely, so counters must be played very conservatively. It is weakest in the Aggro match, as it hasn't got enough counters or blockers to sufficiently deal with every threat they can play. The control matchup can be good or bad depending on the opponent's deck. Landstill and other decks which can control the board well can cause the deck problems, but it will usually win before MUC has had a chance to take control of the game.
This deck would be best run in a metagame where combo is a problem matchup and aggro is only seen in small numbers.
Splashing one colour is the most common route for Threshold decks. White, Red, and Black are all splashable and each add something different to the deck, as shown below.
Mystic Enforcer – Mystic Enforcer is very strong, evasive, and great against lots of removal too.
Jotun Grunt - Grunt works on the same fuel as other creatures you have, weakening them. However, enough opponents run graveyard-fueled creatures to make Grunt worthwhile.
Hoofprints of the Stag – Although slower than most creatures, Hoofprints can be excellent in more controlling builds.
Meddling Mage – Pikula is used less now, but this can hurt combo or perform utilities such as making Counterbalance immune to Krosan Grip.
Swords to Plowshares – Swords to Plowshares is the best removal spell in the format, no question, and one of the main advantages of running White.
Oblivion Ring - Oblivion Ring removes anything. It's quite expensive though.
Armageddon – 'Geddon is excellent versus Landstill and Loam decks and a good Sideboard option.
Dueling Grounds - Dueling Grounds smacks goblins and any other deck wanting to attack in numbers. Put a good blocker in the way, and nothing can hurt you.
White Threshold has been one of the major types of Threshold in past years.
This traditional White Threshold deck has been one of the defining decks of Legacy for a long time now. The deck has an extra strong threat in Mystic Enforcer, the usual cantrips, and a better board control than most Thresh decks, with Swords to Plowshares and Oblivion Ring. The sideboard is strong against some of the deck's worst matchups--Wheel of Sun and Moon comes in against Ichorid, which can hurt thresh immensely, and Loam, which is another problem deck for Thresh. Dueling Grounds combats goblins and stops them from battering you too quickly. Mage comes in against combo, which, while not a bad matchup to begin with, can become harder after the board.
Traditional White Threshold is slightly better than most Threshold decks against aggro, as StP and Oblivion Ring can deal with threats and the deck's large creatures (especially Mystic Enforcer) can be very tough to deal with. It is also quite strong in the Aggro Control mirror, as it can more easily deal with opposing Goyfs due to Swords to Plowshares and O-Ring. It has a mediocre game against control, as it has answers to their threats, but they have answers to its, and it is forced to race them. It has a worse game against combo than other versions of Thresh because it has 6 cards in the maindeck that are almost completely useless in these matchups.
This deck would best be run in a metagame where Aggro decks are strong and combo decks are not a common matchup.
Contrary to popular belief, Jace does
not throw his arms as knives.
This version of Thresh plays out a lot slower than other builds. Hoofprints of the Stag can make many devastating threats, especially when combined with Brainstorm and Jace. Jace himself is an amazing draw engine if you can protect him (ignore the mill ability, just draw 3 and let your opponent have one.) The deck has some good control elements in the 4 Spell Snare, which can counter crucial spells against any deck.
Modern UGw Threshold has a strong matchup against other Aggro Control decks, as it gains more card advantage and has answers to their Tarmogoyfs, as well as having strong threats late game. It also has a strong matchup against Control decks, as it can play well enough in the late game to cause them problems. It is neither weak nor strong against Combo, as it has enough cards to fight them off, but no more than other builds of Thresh. Modern UGw Thresh is weakest against Aggro, as it loses speed and cannot always take control quickly enough to win the game.
This version is best run when lots of Control decks are expected, with not so many aggro decks around.
Fledgling Dragon – Fledgling Dragon is played less these days due to other strong creatures, but he's still pretty powerful.
Burning Tree Shaman - Burning Tree Shaman punishes a lot of decks and is a reasonable size to boot.
Lightning Bolt – Bolt can deal damage or act as creature removal.
Fire/Ice – Fire kills a creature, or Ice taps it down.
Magma Jet – Magma Jet has the same applications as other burn but also has scry. It's not played as much as other burn.
Chain of Plasma/Lightning Storm – Not as good as other options on their own, but if a Chain of Plasma is fired at Swans of Bryn Argoll at end of your opponent's turn, you can Lightning Storm for lethal damage during your turn.
Pyroclasm – Pyroclasm wipes the bard against goblins or other aggro, an excellent Sideboard slot.
Ancient Grudge – Ancient Grudge destroys 2 artifacts for one card.
Pyroblast/Red Elemental Blast – Blasts counter a lot and affect most of the top decks in the format.
The other traditional splash colour for Threshold is Red. Here is a classic Red Thresh build.
UGr Threshold is a good, all-round Thresh deck. Along with UGw Thresh, it has been the most common build in Legacy for a long time. Bolts can take out small guys or help your guys get over creatures of the same size. Fledgling Dragon is brutal with Threshold, and he can probably take out any creature you meet. Pyroclasm from the board deals with goblins and other weenies well.
UGr Threshold is a good all round build of Thresh, which can take on Goblins or Storm combo efficiently, without any wasted cards against any deck. Such versatility comes at a price, however, and the deck does not have any huge strengths against any decks preboard. Post-board, the deck can adapt to the opponent, with Crypt coming in vs Combo, Pyroclasm vs aggro and Needle, and Grip against anything worrying.
I would take this deck to a blind meta, and it can easily be adapted to perform in any metagame. Small changes can be made to seriously improve it in any meta. For example, take Moon Thresh.
It's all right, we all hate him.
Magus of the Moon immediately affects the game heavily. Any deck not prepared for him (and there are quite a few) can be destroyed by his entrance. Magus shores up the matchup against Landstill, other Threshold, and Loam decks, all of which are hurt by his entrance. As long as you can keep them off the burn spells, he will win you these matchups a lot of the time.
Post-board, he is easy to side out as well. Depending on the matchup, it is easy to find a suitable replacement, should the effect not be as powerful. Pyroclasm, Krosan Grip and Trygon Predator are all easy replacements.
This build would be best taken to a tournament where decks with shaky mana bases, lots of Threshold, Landstill, and Loam were to be expected.
Another meta dependent version of Red Thresh is Canadian Threshold, or Thrash.
Strip Mine, but less broken? Nobody
runs basics anyway do they?
This version of Threshold is extremely Tempo based. It operates by playing one creature and then riding that creature all the way to victory. The creatures are cut to the basic 8, as the deck operates off two mana quite often and can manage off one mana. Wasteland is excellent mana disruption; and Stifle can stop fetchlands, which are played in almost every deck. The rest of the spells are excellent at countering removal and forcing your threats through.
This version has good matchups against any deck that needs a lot of mana to run but can be prevented from getting it, or against any deck that cannot easily deal with creatures. It also has a good matchup against decks with relatively few lands, as they can be completely shut out. It's weaker against decks with lots of lands, especially Loam, which will resolve threats and get loads of lands.
This version of Thresh would be best taken to a metagame which has lots of Threshold and weak mana bases.
The final version of UGr Threshold is Swans Thresh. Swans Thresh plays like regular Threshold, with Swans of Bryn Argoll and Chain of Plasma as an alternate win condition.
No, I won't quote Evan Erwin.
Swans Thresh is a very new version of Threshold. This deck uses Swans of Bryn Argoll as a powerful beater and Chain of Plasma as a way to win the game immediately. Swans/Chain theoretically improve the aggro matchup, as Swans can stall the game and Chain will immediately win it. At worst, Chains becomes a weak Lightning Bolt.
Swans Thresh improves the Aggro matchup and doesn't affect other matchups too drastically. Against opponents that want to win before you could combo, or with heavy disruption, Chain of Plasma can easily be sideboarded out, as it'll either be counter fodder or the match will have been won or lost long before it's relevant.
This version is still in Trial, so I'd recommend lots of testing before taking it anywhere.
Bitterblossom – Blossom produces creatures every turn, creating both threats and card advantage. The Rogues aren't strong though, so this option is still in testing.
Tombstalker - Tombstalker is often a 5/5 Flier for , rivaling even Tarmogoyf in sheer power.
Dark Confidant – Bob draws cards, which is great for Thresh; and considering its low mana cost average, he'll rarely hurt much.
Smother/Ghastly Demise – Both Smother and Ghastly Demise are strong pieces of removal, second only to Swords to Plowshares.
Thoughtseize – Thoughtseize is the best discard spell around, as it pulls anything you don't want to see out of their hand.
Extirpate – Many decks rely on the graveyard. Extirpate punishes that heavily and can also take out any card you don't want to see the other copies of.
Leyline of the Void - Leyline is generally better in Black, as you can play it, should you draw into it.
Black is relatively newly-splashed, compared to White and Red. Thoughtseize is one main appeal, as early discard hurts every deck. Dark Confidant is the other, as it's excellent Draw, as well as a small threat. Because of the extra disruption, Black Threshold is usually run as Tempo Thresh.
<System> Player Lost
This version of Threshold is tempo-based and so operates the entire deck off 2 mana. Bob provides powerful card advantage, while a single Mongoose or Tarmogoyf can shut the opponents down. Wasteland and Stifle also provide mana denial, which can be very painful to many decks.
This version of Threshold has reasonably good matchups across the board, with discard hurting Control and Combo and the high amount of removal damaging aggro. There is always the risk that the deck will run out of steam, and it lacks a big finisher, so it can have trouble if they resolve a Mystic Enforcer or some other hard-to-kill beater.
I would take this deck to a metagame where control is weak, so it is less likely to die to a single resolved threat.
4 Colours and More.
Because of the different uses of the Colours, running more than one splash is possible. The advantage is that you get the best of both colours. However, opponents can more easily keep you off one of the colours, depending on the matchup.
Never die to combo again!
Multi-splash Threshold decks have more answers for specific problems. The 5 colour list above, for example, runs Swords to Plowshares, Thoughtseize, Pyroclasm, and Red Elemental Blast in the sideboard. This gives it answers to any threat and makes it harder to combat. However, it can easily be kept off the correct colours of mana. Wasteland can destroy a City of Brass and stop the deck from seeing the colour of mana it needs. There is also the problem of life, as with Fetchlands, City of Brass, Force of Will, and Thoughtseize, the deck deals a lot of damage to itself, which an aggro deck can capitalise on.
Multi-splash Threshold improves its matchup against any deck that cannot capitalise on its weaker mana base. However, decks running Wastelands and other mana disruption will find the matchup far easier against Threshold.
I would run this deck in an environment where decks with little mana disruption are expected so the deck will have easy access to all its needed mana.
Despite Threshold being the most popular deck around and having more Top 8 finishes than any other deck, no single build of Threshold has come out as the dominant build. Currently, Threshold decks are splitting between tempo-orientated builds (with Wasteland, Stifle, and only the cheapest creatures, aiming for a quick win) and Counterbalance builds (with Counterbalance/Sensei's Divining Top and more expensive powerful creatures, aiming to take control of the game and win more slowly). However, even in these schisms, no dominant list can be found, as all different splashes manage to perform at different places. With Threshold, rather than aimlessly pulling a list off the internet, you need to find the build that works for you.
The evolution of Threshold depends on metagame changes and new cards more than anything else. As new cards like Tarmogoyf and Counterbalance have affected Threshold significantly, so will cards in the future, possibly taking the deck in a new direction altogether. Threshold is extremely good at adapting, so whatever the future brings, Threshold will remain a contender for years.
By Nick Burns on June 25th, 2008 · Filed in Legacy (Type 1.5) · Comments not available just now
About Nick Burns
Nick has played Magic for the majority of his life, and turned to Legacy as it split off from T1. Nick lives in Cheltenham, UK, and travels to Gloucester for regular Legacy tournaments.