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Sullivan Library: The Challenge After the Deathrite Ban




If you want to see a massive upheaval in a metagame, you could do no better than see what happened to Legacy after the most recent ban, Deathrite Shaman.

Deathrite Shaman

For some, this is a disappointing prospect. But, then again, some people love dry Grape Nuts. For most of us, this is a welcome change.

For me, I'm ecstatic. One of my favorite parts about Legacy has been, historically, its incredible diversity. When I was doing coverage of tournaments, I'd often talk about this fact in the booth: it would be an odd moment in a Legacy event if there were less than six or seven different archetypes in the Top 8 of a major event. In the just departed Legacy format, pre-Deathrite Shaman ban, you'd rarely see anything even getting close to that.

Let's take a practical example: the last two Legacy Challenge events on Magic Online.

22 people were tied for Top 8 in the July 2nd Legacy Challenge. Here is a breakdown of the archetypes from that event, pre-banning:

  • Grixis Delver: 7
  • ANT: 3
  • Czech Pile: 2
  • Dragon Stompy: 2
  • Colorless Eldrazi: 1
  • Stoneblade: 1
  • Temur Delver: 1
  • Enchantress: 1
  • Burn: 1
  • Team America DS: 1
  • Dredge: 1
  • Metalworker: 1

Now, there were some variants in the "Grixis Delver" decks I've counted, above. Most looked much like the version below.

Of course, the other part of this story is also that the Czech Pile deck is also a Deathrite Shaman deck. While only two appeared in the "tied for Top 8", it does make for 9 Deathrite Shaman decks.

Compare this, then, to the metagame after the bannings -- a bannings which also must be noted, included Gitaxian Probe. Again, 22 players were tied for Top 8, but what a different 22 decks:

  • Death and Taxes: 3
  • 4-Color Loam: 3
  • Temur Delver: 3
  • Sneak and Show: 2
  • Dredge: 2
  • Dragon Stompy: 2
  • Imperial Painter: 1
  • Colorless Eldrazi: 1
  • Zombie Bombardment: 1
  • ANT: 1
  • Miracles: 1
  • Grixis Delver: 1
  • Infect: 1


What a difference a ban makes!

Now, one thing that is absolutely the case in a situation like this is that we have an entirely rebooted metagame, so it is fair to mention the uncertain footing that all decks are under. This can mean that, given time, things will shake out a bit, but I have a feeling that they won't.

"Why is that?" you may ask, and a part of it is simple: we seem to be repeating the past. The winning deck at the Legacy Challenge was Sneak and Show, a powerful controlling deck that wins with by comboing out either an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or a Griselbrand, and essentially ending the game immediately or close to immediately. At the same time, the three most represented decks, Death and Taxes, 4-Color Loam, and Temur Delver (the descendent of the once ubiquitous Canadian Threshold) are all basically incredibly fair decks, all of which be tailored to fight a great fight against Sneak and Show or any other deck that crops up.

Death and Taxes is particularly able to be tailored to fight the good fight. Here is the top finishing version:

One fun side note on D00mwake's deck: it fit in a copy of Remorseful Cleric from Magic 2019!

This deck is the epitome of "fair (but mean)", and if you've never played against it, you probably won't realize by simply looking at the list on paper that it is a Prison deck rather than a White Weenie deck (I covered this concept about the deck in some detail back in 2013). As such, it will often feel like you are being slowly locked up or pinned; jiu-jitsu enthusiasts who play Magic would feel right at home playing Death and Taxes.

One of my favorite parts about this deck is that it plays Mother of Runes -- a sort of walking creature-protection spell on a 1/1 body. It is so innocuous, and yet, so scary.

Death and Taxes is almost certainly the biggest winner in the Deathrite Shaman plus Gitaxian Probe banning. First of all, Gitaxian Probe was a common feature in the most explosively unfair decks in Legacy, and the loss of that card slows all of those decks down just a tiny bit. But, secondly, Deathrite Shaman wasn't just an amazing card, but it was particularly powerful against the mana denial of Death and Taxes.

Death and Taxes would not only be ill-served by using their Wasteland, but the Deathrite Shaman would simultaneously be able to potentially create a True-Name Nemesis much earlier that it could be managed. About the only way to deal with that card once in play was to race, which is where some of the only utility (to my biased mind) of Serra Avenger came in: going over the head of the meanest Merfolk.

Of course, the other decks that made a splash are worth mentioning.

This deck has always felt a little wacky to me. Part Loam midrange-control deck, part Junk midrange-aggro deck, not quite Punishing Maverick, not quite Aggro-Loam, but all of it mashed up into a single thing. This deck leans incredibly heavily on 4 Chalice of the Void -- a very reasonable alternative to a Thoughtseize plan -- and also runs the 'nombo' of Liliana of the Veil/Chalice of the Void.

Still, despite its contradictions, this deck is very powerful. Endless Wasteland is very easy to produce with this deck, as are other cruel things like Mox Diamond/Life from the Loam into absurdly fast starts, Green Sun's Zenith into a hateful card like Gaddock Teeg or Scavenging Ooze, or locking someone out with Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows.

For my money, I'd likely head down a path that was more singular in its plan, but I can't help but respect this, regardless.

One exciting development was an Imperial Painter deck in the Top 8, an archetype I haven't seen in a good long while!

There is a lot to love about a deck that is making use of main deck Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast. Painter's Servant makes a lot of crazy things possible, and this build is no exception.

Clearly, utley26 wasn't excited about facing down any Storm, as they are running four Ethersworn Canonist in the main. Smuggler's Copter makes great use of the dead cards you might have against particular opponent, and the deck is fully capable of putting up a kind of clock as a result of Copter and the other mish mash of random utility creatures.

Excitingly, there are several other newer cards in the deck besides Smuggler's Copter: Walking Ballista and Karn, Scion of Urza make an appearance, here. On a personal note, I'm also excited to see Viashino Heretic in the sideboard, a card that I've had a great deal of personal success with over the years, most especially at Pro Tour NY in 1999, where I tied for Top 8 with several of the card.

One of the most wild decks in the event featured another Magic 2019 card:

Stitcher's Supplier

Frankly, what an awesome deck! While I know Sam Black has mentioned playing this deck in Legacy, I didn't know that it would necessarily be able to place so well in such a competitive event! The creatures are a combination of basically one-mana-or-less threats, nearly all of which make great fodder for Cabal Therapy.

Heavy discard can be backbreaking, and if you add a resilient clock on top of it, it can be very hard to resist.

Goblin Bombardment deserved a special mention. In the past, we've seen cards like Mortarpod have impressive use in certain metagames. If you have a large supply of random fodder, Goblin Bombardment is absolutely absurd. Gravecrawler and Goblin Bombardment are just cruel in combination, and this deck can quite easily manage to have another Zombie around to make things become absurd.

While I'm personally usually loathe to play graveyard-based decks, I do love this one.

If you're wondering what I would play, here is my current Legacy deck of choice:

Probably the biggest things you'll see in this list that are different from other people are that I eschew Serra Avenger in this deck (except in rare metagames where I feel the need for a 3/3 flier) in favor of more redundancy on Phyrexian Revoker and Sanctum Prelate. I also am a huge fan of Mangara of Corondor in the deck, and sometimes you'll even see me include a second copy in the 75 cards, even though I already have Recruiter of the Guard.

Devout Witness has been an invaluable card. Right now, I'm of the opinion that there are enough cards that are already great targets, but that also, as Death and Taxes makes an ascendancy, we can expect more hateful cards to come; having Devout Witness in the mix can be a godsend.

Looking at my calendar, I'm hoping I can fit in a Legacy event soon! If I do, expect to see me tearing up the tables with Death and Taxes; I hope I see you there too!

- Adrian L. Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter

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