Grand Prix: Columbus was a success measured by attendance. After all, it was the biggest Legacy event ever on U.S. soil. But it was a fiasco measured by format quality. Flash showed up in its new errata-free suit to ruin the realistic chances of players of other decks that developers had been working with for years. Yes, Legacy tends to move along slowly. Its deck designs have that Roman quality about them, building upon the ideas of the Greeks before them and infusing current technology. We can expect to see plenty of Threshold show up at Chicago. And Goblins. And Landstill. Ye oulde guard is not going away any time soon. But there is always something new on the horizon just the same. As GP: Chicago nears, it is high time to get some real information about what new tech you can expect to see there from the people who really know the format. Today I bring you a designer who has produced two popular innovations on older decks since the last Legacy GP. Let's take a ride on his chariot to see what these designs can bring to the table.
Hi, there. My real name is Daniel Signorini and I have been playing Magic off and on for a very long time, almost since the beginning. I think this fills me with a lot of nostalgia for older cards and strategies, and subsequently attracted me to the Legacy format when it was created. I've always had a soft spot for Suicide Black as an archetype, which is pretty evident through the decks I play, and being in such a close proximity to some of the best Legacy players and deck designers really sucked me in to playing competitively again. with no strings attached makes me shiver. In 2005, at GP: Philadelphia, Chris Pikula included these in that little rogue deck he brought at a time when black was almost unseen in Legacy. He took second.
Team America was a joint effort between myself and David Gearhart, a name most people associate with Solidarity and, more recently, It's the Fear. The deck is a highly disruptive blue/black/green aggro control deck that aims to deny your opponent resources while swinging in for the win with Tombstalker and/or Tarmogoyf. It runs "free" removal and countermagic in the form of Force of Will, Daze, and Snuff Out, and a very aggressive land destruction suite in the form of Sinkhole, Wasteland, and Stifle. Thoughtseize is thrown in to help defend your threats and further disrupt your opponent, and Brainstorm and Ponder really smooth out the deck's consistency.
Generally speaking, the deck tends to beat on control decks like Landstill, especially the four-color builds, and Storm Combo. It also does really well against Survival decks, and has a much better game one against Goblins, generally speaking, than the Countertop decks do. Also, the deck and its overall disruptive game plan are extremely redundant and very consistent. It also goes roughly 50/50 with most builds of Countertop Threshold.
There have been a lot of criticisms about the deck's manabase that I don't entirely agree with. Yes, Blood Moon and Back to Basics are both a gigantic beating if they resolve (these spells are also relatively expensive at three mana), but as far as opposing LD strategies are concerned I feel the manabase is quite stable. It is very hard to cut the deck off of a color it needs because of how many duals and fetches it runs. Team America needs to see double black very early, along with blue, while needing to also have a green source available to play Tarmogoyf. In a deck that wants to do so much in the early game you really can't afford to run basics. As far as the damage concern goes it is rarely relevant in such an aggressive deck. Yes, Snuff Out domes you for 4, but it is also free and clears away a blocker while letting you play a disruption spell or another threat in the same turn. Plays like these are vital to the deck's explosive power. Against decks with a lot of burn spells it can be a problem, but on the same note they will have trouble dealing with your threats. Blue blasts out of the sideboard help a lot in these matchups if it is a concern. The threats in TA have been just fine simply due to how hard they hit, and there isn't really any "lack of synergy" between Tarmogoyf and Tombstalker. Playing Tombstalker will seldom shrink Tarmogoyf, and is rarely relevant even when it does happen (partially due to the fact that your opponent also has a graveyard, in addition to the fact that you now have a 5/5 flyer on the table).
I'll have to start this by saying that I believe the deck is very consistent, and is more "Suicide Black with cantrips and countermagic" than Threshold. There is a lot of redundancy in the disruption suite and Brainstorm and Ponder really help smooth out some of the consistency issues with other black-based aggro control strategies. That being said, the deck does have its weaknesses. Cards like Blood Moon, Back to Basics, and to a lesser extent Choke really break you if you can't stop them from resolving or have an already ridiculous board position. Ichorid as a strategy is going to be painful, and decks like Merfolk that run Aether Vial and a mono-colored manabase can be frustrating. Decks with tons of relevant creature removal (ie. Things that kill Tombstalker) can also be problematic if you cannot successfully disrupt their manabase, and Counterbalance plus Top is still very bad for you, even though you can operate more effectively under it than Threshold can.
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Some cards are also quite bad against the deck, and yet I still see people bringing them in out of their sideboards. Extirpate is quite bad against Team America, especially post-board, even though it seems like a good strategy against a deck with only two different threats. Pernicious Deed does next to nothing other than being a five-mana Terror spell that makes future Tarmogoyfs much scarier. Bounce spells on Tombstalker can be good sometimes, but the deck puts a lot of cards in the graveyard quickly which makes casting him again pretty easy to do. A lot of people are talking about Divert as a good card to bring in against this deck, but in practice it is pretty weak and an extremely narrow sideboard card.
When Anwar and I developed Eva Green the Legacy metagame had already shifted to being predominantly blue decks, mostly those abusing Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top. As such I still believe the deck could be a force with the way things are now. The design of the deck's overall skeleton was largely based on Anwar's Masque of the Red Death Suicide Black deck. Most of everything played, threats and disruption, are four-ofs because they are the most efficient cards for the job they are trying to do. When we tried Tombstalker for the first time the results were devastating. Being able to play four Tombstalkers, four Tarmogoyfs, and four Nantuko Shades lets you punch through opposing Tarmogoyfs and put a lot of pressure on the table early on. It has essentially the same overall game plan as Team America, but executes it differently. Dark Ritual is a very powerful tempo boost and Hypnotic Specter and Hymn to Tourach give you an actual source of card advantage while maintaining pressure on your opponent's resources. Eva Green has twice the number of threats as Team America, but also lacks cantrips and countermagic. It is subsequently a bit more vulnerable to your opponent top-decking what he/she needs to beat you, and tends to be a bit more inconsistent (another reason that the deck is built in a redundant fashion). I think the best thing going for Eva Green is the ability to run Choke out of the sideboard, which seems more powerful right now than it has ever been before.
Eva Green is at its best in a lot of the same situations as Team America, with a few exceptions. It tends to be more stable in the face of nonbasic land hate such as Moon effects and Back to Basics, and it also has enough creatures to more effectively fight one- or two-color control decks that pack an excess amount of removal and have less disruptable manabases. Additionally, Eva Green gets to run Choke out of the board, which is an extremely potent weapon against the majority of blue-based decks that are dominating forces in Legacy. It is less consistent than Team America, but also boasts the ability to draw truly broken opening hands on the back of Dark Ritual. Whether or not this makes up for the consistency issue is more or less a wash, but the deck is still much less equipped to deal with combo (although still strong here) and mid-game topdecks like Mystic Enforcer from a recovering opponent. Eva Green also does not want to see Survival of the Fittest and has a less focused mana-denial plan than Team America. It has a roughly equal tribal aggro matchup as TA, Merfolk aside, and I believe most Dreadstill builds to be a favorable matchup. Threshold in general is going to be in the 50/50 range as well.
Out of the decks I have helped to design, I'd say Team America is probably a better choice for a large tournament like a Grand Prix due to its consistency alone. I'm not sure if the deck is for everyone, as it plays quite differently than Threshold or Suicide Black, but if you put some time into it I think it is a strong choice for Chicago. That being said, I believe anyone interested in doing well should also strongly consider playing something with Counterbalance and Sensei's Divning Top in their starting 60.
I am indeed from northern Virginia, and am extremely lucky to have such a strong Legacy community practically at my doorstep. Our meta is quite diverse, as we are all constantly trying out new decks and ideas, but as for what I believe will be out in force at the GP I'd have to say without a doubt that Counterbalance/Top decks like Threshold are going to show up en masse. There will probably also be a strong tribal presence, notably Merfolk and Goblins, with a few Elves! and Legacy-ported Fairies decks running around. Ichorid will be there but not in numbers, and I expect a lot of people to be trying their luck with Dreadstill. I also think Landstill will make a decent showing due to the amount of Threshold expected. Affinity usually shows up to any major Legacy tournament, as well as Storm Combo decks packing Ad Nauseam. After these decks, I believe there will be a whole smorgasbord of different decks, including Survival, Zoo, Rock, Stax, Reanimator, you name it. I expect anything and everything, but the majority of the field will probably be the Threshold (including "Next Level Blue" variants), Landstill, Tribal, and Storm Combo decks. Many people are also probably going to squeeze Natural Order and Progenitus into their decks, but I'm not sure how strong this particular combo will be.
Take some time to playtest against established Threshold lists, and make sure you have a plan to beat Counterbalance/Sensei's Divining Top. And I mean playtesting in real life with competent opponents, playing the first game as if you don't know what you are playing against, and also testing post-board (very important). Have a sideboarding plan against the blue-based aggro/control decks, the control decks like Landstill, Merfolk, Goblins, and Storm Combo at least. Then decide what you think is worth devoting sideboard space to out of the rest of the expected decks. For example, if your deck has no shot of beating Ichorid without ten sideboard cards, you might want to just ignore that matchup and take the loss if it comes along. However, if three or four Tormod's Crypts swing the matchup, and you also need the help against Loam-based strategies and something like Cephalid Breakfast, it might be worth it. Take some time to prepare yourself and most importantly have a good time when you're there. Legacy is an extremely fun format and the Grand Prix is going to be a blast. Oh, and one more thing: if you can afford some extra time on Friday before the tournament, it might be a good idea to participate in some of the "grinder" Grand Prix Trial tournaments being held for byes. Having byes really, really helps and it will help acclimatize you to competitive Legacy.
I will most certainly be there, and I can't wait. See you all in Chicago!
Dan Signorini can be found standing on the defeated bodies of Greek warriors at The Source as Nitewolf9.