What Next For Legacy?: Combo Socks and Talking Elves

Sock Theory

I was looking through my laundry the other day when my goldfish tests of some combo deck crept into my subconscious. I just couldn't seem to find a pair of socks. Oh, I had found plenty of socks, but no pairs. The number of unpaired socks I typically find in a pile before locating a mate has always baffled me. There is no way it pans out mathematically, but yet it never fails. If I have 16 socks in a laundry heap, I can expect to find six or seven unique socks before creating a pair. It was then that I realized that Empty the Warrens is the universal sock, raising the sock value of any deck it is in.

Confused? This should help.

The Sock Rule
To find the sock value of a combo deck, compare these fractions:

number of kill cards
(and tutors for kill cards)

number of cards in the deck


number of cards that provide the engine
(or tutor for the engine)

number of cards in the deck

The smaller of these numbers is the sock value.

With that in mind, I can't believe combo is not more prevalent in Legacy. Honestly, it is so easy to assemble a lethal combo kill. I mean "easy" in a number of different ways here. It's all about the socks.

Look at this example.

DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Goblin Charbelcher
4 Burning Wish
3 Empty the Warrens
4 Lion's Eye Diamond
4 Lotus Petal
4 Chrome Mox
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Elvish Spirit Guide
4 Land Grant
1 Taiga
1 Bayou
4 Dark Ritual
4 Rite of Flame
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Seething Song
4 Tinder Wall
3 Wild Cantor

1. It is easy to build this deck.
2. It is easy to play this deck.
3. It is easy to kill with this deck.

Usually called "Belcher" (does anyone know or care what "CRET" stands for?), its sock value is 11/60 (4 Goblin Charbelcher, 4 Burning Wish, and 3 Empty the Warrens). This deck is entirely capable of killing on turn 1. In fact, it goldfishes by turn 2 about 70-80% of the time. Sometimes it takes a turn or two after that to actually kill using goblin tokens generated by a big Empty the Warrens, but the combo has gone off nonetheless. In my opinion it is the strongest of the current crop of combo decks around. Its high sock value is a big reason why since it has a good chance of having the kill in the opening draw and really only fizzles from user error. The deck was being explored by many different people about the same time GP: Flash was in the works, so it was shelved. One would think that a deck like this would make a big stink, but amazingly, it has not been very popular.

As an aside, I have a strong inkling why. For one thing, Legacy has a habit of adapting to the ever-looming threat of new broken combo before it is an actual threat. In this case, Engineered Explosives has been very popular in the maindeck of quite a few different designs. Now it is true that this is a really good way of hosing goblin tokens after the fact, but a big reason it has been popping up is its sugar-sweet interaction with the most undercosted fatty ever printed. And there is another reason Tarmogoyf has been a damper on combo. Its design works best in the omnipresent aggro-control decks of Legacy which only seem to become more popular and diverse every time I look. Aggro-control is fast combo's worst nightmare. So the two cards mutually feed the popularity of the other. I think it is beautiful that the best combo hoser Green has is a nothing but a really big beatstick.
It's the best sock in the drawer.
Anyway I still think that combo is better than its numbers. The horse race between combo and control elements has been a meandering competition for the entire lifespan of the Legacy format. These days the hitherto best combo hoser, Meddling Mage is quite untrustworthy, as Empty the Warrens makes a reliable backup kill condition to a number of different combo decks at the moment. And there is no other weakest link to name with Mr. Pikula. Empty the Warrens enables combo because it increases the sock value of a deck.

A deck like Solidarity has a relatively low sock value. It is typically about 5/60. That is 2 Brain Freeze (the kill card) and 3 Cunning Wish to fetch them directly. It usually does not matter because Solidarity can see huge numbers of cards in a game. But it has to draw all those cards or it is dead. Other colors can't get away with that. They have to find other ways to pair up their left sock (engine) with their right sock (kill condition) every time they get dressed. They need a higher sock value. Vintage has a half dozen broken tutors to keep this number high and another half dozen broken draw spells to make the sock value of its combo decks of little consequence. So naturally, combo is always a major player in Vintage metagames. But other formats don't have access to such clear ways out. Other formats need combo decks (especially storm combo) with a high sock value to reach the required critical mass for consistency.

Recently, I was running my mouth on a thread concerned with creating a reliable win with Glimpse of Nature and a bunch of zero cost creatures when I again wanted to add Empty the Warrens. Of all my propositions, the actual good ideas for the deck turned out to be few, but then I didn't have to think very hard about them. Simply add Empty the Warrens. Because it needs a very low storm count to be effective (6 or 7 is usually enough), it adds up to 7 wildcard socks to any combo that includes Red. Just combine it with Burning Wish and press Tumble Dry. That is what the Belcher list above has done. Empty the Warrens turned that deck, which used to routinely kill itself, into an efficient combo. Hot damn, I love clean laundry.

And now for something completely different.

The Life and Opinions of an Uninspired Designer

Have you ever noticed how much of the flavor in Magic is borrowed from other genres? This is so prevalent that, while essentially all of the characters are original creations of Wizards of the Coast, their roles simply fulfill the needs of a creative team reaching for inspiration. Take the elf, for example. They did not create this creature. The creature type is a direct translation from TSR's Dungeons and Dragons. And TSR didn't invent them anyway. Those creatures are an adaptaion of J.R.R. Tolkien's semi-divine characters. At this point I am going to need an imagination aid, so I brought an elf with me. Meet—

This is terrible.


It's terrible.

What is?

This....whole thing.

You mean the part about—

I mean all of it. Your argument is flimsy. Your background is clearly shallow. You tell your wife that you barely played Dungeons and Dragons as a teenager. How could you fully appreciate the relationship of those particular elves to any others if that is so? Have you even read any of Tolkien's works?

I don't want to get too far off topic here, but as a matter of fact I have.

You read The Hobbit. It's a kids' book. The others were too laborious for you.

Well, I tried, but . . . wait a minute. This is not what you are here for. Damnit, stop sidetracking! It's not flimsy.

Now then, having run out of ideas, Mr. Garfield immediately borrowed from his surroundings. As if TSR products weren't enough of a theft, he lifted ideas from 1001 Arabian Nights in his very first expansion. It wasn't until Antiquities that anything original—

Don't blame me. I am a construct of your mind. But fine. Carry on with your drivel.

Now hold on! What gives you the right to denigrate my thoughts anyway? I mean, if I created you, I call the shots. And I will not—

Not very well.

Now what?

You did an exceedingly poor job of thinking me up.

I can't imagine what you mean.

The fact is that I am in serious need of disambiguation.

What's that?

You got it from Wikipedia when you looked up "denigrate".

Oh, right.

So what sort of elf am I? I could be a Tolkien elf or something from a Keebler commercial . . . or even a Dark Sun elf.

A what?

It comes from that Dungeons and Dragons novel you didn't read when you were a teenager. It was at about the same time that you were not memorizing the rule books.

Shut up.
Obnoxious elf.

That last one wasn't even a sentence.

Every narrow pointy-ear is a critic. There, I disambiguated you. You are clear in my mind now.


Is that a word?

More or less. It's not English, though. You have only a rudimentary understanding of its connotations, but it means "elf." It could just as easily mean "fairy," "gnome," or "leprechaun," though. Your wife taught you the word when you tried fruitlessly to teach her how to play Magic.

There's nothing wrong with that. I wanted someone to play with.

What about your kids, then? Did you tell her that you fantasize about having little playmates for games such as Magic?

Well, no. But then . . . so what?!

You sir, are an addict.

You make it out to be so bad. It's a hobby like any other. I am not ashamed for wanting to share my passion with my kids.

Yes you are. You are ashamed of a lot of things.

Oh, here we go.

It's true. Why do you play Magic anyway? You only play Legacy anymore, yet you still collect the new sets. You pore over the rules, yet you refuse to take the judge test. You incessantly design and refine decks for tournaments, but you can't go to any. You're so ridiculous.

It's just my creative outlet. All of that is necessary to entertain myself with this game.

That answer was a dodge. Why do you write articles, then?

I suppose you can tell me, Mr. Smartguy.

Naturally. One word: recognition. It's why you make decks and why you write articles. It's why you pursue Legacy in the first place. It's a small pond.

We all have reasons for the things we do. We all want to be accepted by others. To feel otherwise is unhealthy. Besides, that isn't the whole story...

You're a phony, mate. Your focus is so narrow that you have lapsed in other areas. Why don't you play Limited?

It's no fun for me when I don't have acres of freedom to design my deck. Where are you going with this?

So you don't like Limited because you can't be original?

Yeah, man. Well, partly. I need a muse, and Limited decks are so uninspiring. They are, well, limited.

But you would have others believe that your Constructed decks are original when there are no truly original tournament decks anymore. They are all influenced by what came before.

I like the fact that I benefit from my years of experience. It's true. My advantage is that I can draw upon all of the best decks from the entire history of the game for direction. I never said—

You are a copycat.

Am not!

Are too. Even I am not what you would call an imaginative solution since I am stolen part and parcel from Dom Camus.

Well, I turned to that character for inspiration, but there's nothing wrong with that. Listen, now. The fact of the matter is that invention is not nearly the excellent thing it is made out to be. It's not invention, but rather innovation that turns something useful in one arena into something useful in another. Nobody is living in a cultural bubble. We all are exposed to our surroundings, and our creative thoughts are governed by the needs presented to us by those surroundings. When I go to create a deck, an article, or a sandwich out of parts, I will certainly be considering what has worked in the past. How can I possibly be asked to do differently?

But you know all this. You are me.

That's true! I suppose you are right on both counts. Weren't you saying something about Richard Garfield?

Yes, I was reporting on his complete lack of—

You had better get about writing that article now, before you go all Tristram Shandy.

I've decided not to.


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