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Anatomy and History of Stoneforge

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Recently, I’ve been on a bit of hiatus with regards to writing since I wanted to spend some time introspecting about potential mistakes and failures I’ve had with regards to Magic. However, to Counterbalance my losses and failures in Standard, I’ve had a fair amount of success in Legacy with Esper Stoneforge. I’d like to spend a bit of time talking about the origins and anatomy of Stoneforge from its starting point here:

I was actually in attendance at this Pro Tour, and I heard murmurings of this deck the day before (in fact, my compatriots Tommy Ashton and Alex Majlaton both decided to play a variant of this deck, albeit with fewer Stoneforges). This deck was extremely resilient to mana flood and mana screw with twenty-six lands, four Preordain, and eight lands that did things (four Tectonic Edge and four Celestial Colonnade). In addition, it was very capable of switching roles into attack-you-for-5-with-Colonnade-and-Hawk mode in the games in which it did not have its namesake Squire.

The deck to beat was R/G Valakut Ramp with Primeval Titans, and a stock list looked something like this:

The real reason Stoneforge Mystic hadn’t broken out as a card before this was the printing of an Equipment in Mirrodin Besieged: Sword of Feast and Famine. Before the printing of this card, the above Valakut list actually had a good matchup against Caw-Go (which Brian Kibler had designed). Sword of Feast and Famine changed the entire dynamic of the matchup by doing two powerful things: pressuring the life total and hand of the Valakut pilot and virtually doubling the amount of mana that Caw-Blade had access to.

Fast-forward a few months to Grand Prix: Providence (Legacy). New Phyrexia had just been released, and yet another powerful Equipment had been printed: Batterskull (a.k.a. the Baneslayer-mobile).

Owen Turtenwald made a deep run into the Top 8 with the following W/U Stoneforge deck:

This is very a different version of Legacy Stoneforge than you are used to, but you have to remember that Snapcaster Mage was not in print, and Mental Misstep was also just printed in New Phyrexia (and remained legal for a few months). Later iterations of this deck involved cutting Daze (a sometimes marginal card) as well as Standstill for Umezawa's Jitte, Spell Snares, and Ancestral Vision. Manriki-Gusari also had an appearance as a good sideboard card to win Equipment mirrors.

Almost another year later, the final evolution of Stoneforge came about, winning Grand Prix: Indianapolis in the hands of Lingering Souls aficionado Tom Martell:

The main innovation was the adoption of discard (to improve the matchups against combo) and the addition of Lingering Souls with Intuition to win matchups against fair decks. Playing this deck reminded me a lot of U/B Faeries or “Dark Caw-Blade” in Standard. The information you gained from seeing the opponent’s hand enables you to both Brainstorm away dead cards in a given matchup (Lingering Souls or removal versus combo; Force of Will versus fair decks) and let you figure out how the next two to three turns will play out.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Is this the final iteration? I don’t think so, but the decklist is extremely tight:

In looking at a breakdown like this, you can see a lot of the cards perform some sort of redundant role rather than be arbitrary ones or two-ofs, which is how you end up with one Counterspell, two Spell Pierce, and three Force of Will (as in my Esper Stoneforge list).

There are other possibilities to explore still. For instance, the Riot Gear Stoneforge variant involves playing Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek (a.k.a. Riot Gear). Thopter-Sword improves your matchup against a lot of fair decks that have Punishing Fire (namely Jund). He writes about it in great detail here.

Another, more aggressive, Stoneforge list could look something like this:

The plan is to leverage Stoneforge Mystic as a fast, aggressive Batterskull or as a way to find a Umezawa's Jitte to help push Geist of Saint Traft through. With nine removal spells consisting of four Swords to Plowshares and four Lightning Bolt and one Detention Sphere, pushing Geist of Saint Traft through for multiple hits doesn’t seem unreasonable at all. Your game probably suffers versus extremely removal-heavy decks (see Punishing Fire Jund or B/U/G in post-board games), but you do have a lot of good tools against those decks, including Rest in Peace (to shut off Tarmogoyf and Deathrite Shaman).

As a bonus, I’ve been working on Elves in Modern (trying to take advantage of Beck):

There are a few combos going on here: With an active Beck, you can combo off with Cloudstone Curio to draw your entire deck, assuming Heritage Druid and two Nettle Sentinels are in play (not as hard to do as it might seem given the presence of Ranger of Eos and four Summoner's Pacts). Once that happens, you can just cast Craterhoof Behemoth to attack the opponent with a very large and angry Behemoth. Cloudstone Curio with Elvish Visionary does a passable impression of Wirewood Symbiote with Elvish Visionary, and that combo helps you grind people out. Essence Warden lets you gain an arbitrarily large amount of life in conjunction with Curio.

Sideboard options include a bunch of utility green guys—including Qasali Pridemage, Gaddock Teeg, Dauntless Escort—and anti-combo cards—including Thoughtseize and Thorn of Amethyst.

Thanks for reading, and I would appreciate any comments here or on Twitter @jkyu06.

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