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Considering Chained to the Rocks in Legacy

Wasteland
This past weekend's Pro Tour 25th Anniversary was an exciting watch. I didn't get to follow all the rounds as closely in real time as I would have liked, but what I did see was awesome. I loved how the matches jumped from Constructed format to Constructed format, with different politics and interplay than we usually see at the PT. It's no surprise that I'm more of a seventy-five card guy than a forty-card one . . .  The three different Constructed formats gave me a tremendous amount of viewing satisfaction and variety even given the soulless continued success of, say, br in Standard.

A big chunk — say one third — of that was the presence of Legacy.

I know that Legacy isn't the most popular mainline Constructed format. Not everyone has easy access to a playset of Underground Seas . . .  But it is a format that I used to put a decent amount of thought into, at a time when it was literally half of the SCG Tour.

It may surprise you to learn that I actually became an Eidolon of the Great Revel-slash-Goblin Guide guy in Legacy first! I just ported the ownership of those cards to Modern. It probably seems weird that as someone who actually owns a playset of Tundras I'd put so much mental energy into Fireblast . . .  But I had a compelling teacher in Patrick Sullivan.

Prior to playing Mono-Red, I was dabbling as a Delver-Burn player. I had some of the impressive offense of Mono-Red (but not quite all, with only Price of Progress and not Fireblast also) . . .  But theoretically I had more resistance of unfair decks. This never played out in reality. I once missed Top 8 of an Open losing only games going second on the first turn. Think about that for a second. Only on the first turn.

The second dissatisfying thing about ur was that if I didn't know what my opponent was, I was often given an impossible choice on turn one. Namely: Should I break my fetchland for Volcanic Island? If I were wrong, I might lose my Volcanic Island to Wasteland and be locked out of a color for the rest of the game. If you watched the Jonathan Sukenik v. Josh Utter-Leyton match at the end of Day One, that can give you an idea about how the low land counts (but high impact cards) of Legacy in a Wasteland environment can strand even great players.

PSulli gave me a liberating option. Just don't worry about Wasteland. If I switched to Mono-Red, I could ignore Wasteland! And gain Fireblast! Wow what a double-whammy!

I would theoretically lose the resistance I had to unfair decks . . .  But I wasn't beating them often enough anyway (see the “only losing on turn one” comment, above). And I'd gain percentage in other matchups . . .  There are magicians who try to beat you with Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage. Their chances are about the same against eight Searing effects as they are in Modern. I've also never lost to the popular White Weenie / Death and Taxes deck in a tournament; even beating Batterskull + double Kor Firewalker repeatedly in a Grand Prix. This was super surprising to me.

Is Mono-Red the strongest deck in Legacy?

Probably not.

Chained to the Rocks
But it's not so far off in win percentage. It is disproportionately rewarded given some sets of pairings. Certainly you're going to be in a position in the middle of the night, having played your heart out all day, only to miss Day Two to a first-turn Entomb.

 . . . But maybe you aren't if you try Chained to the Rocks.

Didn't I just spend the first several paragraphs here talking about the virtues of MONO Red? How would one add a White spell?

For me, I'd add a 21st land to the sideboard; a Plateau. If you play 12 fetchlands in the main, you can access one Plateau easily. It doesn't disrupt the mono-ness main deck, but gives you access to the single w you need in Chained games. Wonderfully in Legacy, you don't actually need W to play your Chained to the Rocks 100% of the time. We'll get to that in a bit.

Following are:

The Top 8 Reasons to Consider Chained to the Rocks in Legacy

VIII. You Can Do So At Almost No Cost

“Against beatdown, you have powerful card advantage and tempo elements in the form of Ravenous Rats, Phyrexian Rager, Phyrexian Rager, and Flametongue Kavu — the sole Red card between deck and sideboard. Yes, it's that good.”

—Brian Kibler, from Top Notch Tech: Black in Standard

I don't know why, but this now-ancient article by my old teammate (and Silver Showcase competitor) (and Hall of Famer) Brian Kibler has stuck with me. In Top Notch Tech Kibler presented a “Mono” Black deck splashing for Flametongue Kavu.

To me, this was bravery. Kibler's mana base was pretty conducive . . .  Eight br dual lands to support four Red 4-drops in the seventy-five. You'll note that if you play the fetchland version of Mono-Red in Legacy, getting your first (and probably only) w is even more consistent than in Kibler's long ago deck.

For those of you unfamiliar with Legacy Mono-Red decks, there are essentially 2 mana base structures: 20 Mountains, or 10 Mountains and 10 fetchlands. Decks with 20 Mountains tend to play Searing Blood in the main deck; decks with fetchlands tend to play Searing Blaze in the main deck and sideboard Searing Blood.

All the Mono-Red decks are essentially immune to Wasteland and Price of Progress, but the mono-Mountains guys are also immune to Stifle.

I've long been a 10 fetchlands guy because I love my Grim Lavamancer, but for our purposes here, I'd go to 12. Even if that reduces mana producing lands a little bit, getting a 21st back from the sideboard more than makes up. Again, with virtually no pressure on main deck mana resilience.

VII. Chained to the Rocks Creates the Ability to Interact

Both the next point and the Number One point are subsets of this principle.

We can think of Legacy in two broad buckets: Decks we can interact with, and decks we either can't interact with or that dictate how the interaction will go.

The first group includes matchups that can go either way, like Temur Delver, or really good matchups like Jund or Sultai. We can kill their [non-Tarmogoyf] creatures, often while gaining value with Searing Effects or Grim Lavamancers, and basically murder them with Price of Progress. Because Legacy permission is usually in the Daze / Spell Pierce Category, we can just tap our lands before we sacrifice them to Fireblast.

The second group includes matchups like Sneak and Show, Storm, and Reanimator. To be fair, if we go first and Storm doesn't kill us immediately, we can put up a good show with Eidolon of the Great Revel (and the strategic mulligan option). That works out in less than half of games, though; and I've never won a coin flip against Storm in an actual large tournament, so your mileage will vary. But some of the other unfair decks beat you with cards that can theoretically be interacted-with . . .  Just not by you.

Chained to the Rocks changes that.

VI. It's Awesome Against Show and Tell

For reference, I was playing then-Standard against SCG Invitational Top 8 competitor (and great human being) Thea Steele and her Legacy Sneak and Show deck. Angel of Sanctions plopped nicely on top of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

Here's the thing: You don't even need your Plateau if they Show and Tell. You just need a Mountain!

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn has “protection from colored spells” so it's tough to hit with most targeted removal . . .  But Chained to the Rocks works just fine. Chained to the Rocks enchants a Mountain, and its triggered ability is what would hit Emrakul, not the spell itself.

While not perfect-perfect against Griselbrand, Chained to the Rocks does something very nice to its 7/7 body, especially if it can come down faster than the Demon's first attack.

This won't save you from Sneak Attack, but you can get a ton of value back on not-immediate-combo-wins with the super cheap — but super effective — Chained to the Rocks against Show and Tell. My recommendation would be to play both Ensnaring Bridge [still] and Chained to the Rocks if you're going to play Chained to the Rocks, not to cut the old standby.

After all . . . 

V. You Probably Had Some Loose Sideboard Cards Anyway

Examples of cards I've either played or seriously considered playing in Legacy Burn decks and / or Burn sideboards generally:

To be fair, Flame Rift does four damage. It's no Exquisite Firecraft in terms of “right tool for the right job” but both it and Guerrilla Tactics have done good work in the past.

But point being? I think I'd rather stretch a little on Chained to the Rocks + Plateau than ever sleeve up a card that both doesn't impact the battlefield and doesn't do any damage, like Pithing Needle.

IV. In Legacy, Chained to the Rocks is Actually More Protected Than in Modern

All your non-Plateau lands in this [proposed] deck are basic Mountains. That, or Wooded Foothills-esque basic Mountain proxies.

Unlike in Modern, where Ghost Quarter-packing maniacs may destroy even basic lands, the default mana denial in Legacy is Wasteland. Wasteland has no direct interaction with basic Mountain. That is not necessarily to say you should side your Plateau in against Wasteland decks, but more just to say that if you stick a Chained to the Rocks on a basic Mountain, it's less likely to go anywhere than in the other big format.

III. There are a lot of times you might not mind an extra land

That said, there are actually just times a beatdown deck wants an extra land coming in from the sideboard. While you might not necessarily want it against Wasteland only, the 21st land could potentially be helpful against Stifle or Rishadan Port.

I've also heard some arguments around siding the Plateau in against other Mono-Red decks; not just because a slightly land heavy early turns are typically desirable in beatdown mirrors, but because you might potentially want to open the door to other White cards.

II. It costs just one mana

All the usual stuff applies. You can slow down a first turn mana accelerator like Arbor Elf with greater redundancy, or buff your Monastery Swiftspear, same as you might in Modern. While the card is not as good at specialized surgery as, say, a Forked Bolt; Chained to the Rocks can be high impact in matches where speed matters, while also giving you additional depth against cards like Gurmag Angler or even Death's Shadow.

You know, the same creatures that never beat Chained to the Rocks in Modern.

I. Iona, Shield of Emeria

The single most important reason, though, is Iona, Shield of Emeria.

There are a good number of matchups that Mono-Red can play on easy mode. Most decks that want to play a bunch of lands — especially nonbasics — and just come out over ten or so turns? Consistently cake. Decks with Delver of Secrets? As long as they're not too heavy on the Tarmogoyfs, Red usually has them covered.

But the non-interactive decks? Storm, as we said, can be challenging. It's winnable if you get to go first twice; and some sideboarding can be helpful. For example Active Volcano.

Active Volcano

Worse generally than a Red Elemental Blast, this card can be played in response to Infernal Tutor to end a turn on the spot; in comically overextended fashion.

“I'm sorry sir, but you don't seem to be Hellbent any more.”

It has other text, of course; and can kill a Tidespout Tyrant in a pinch.

But perhaps worse than Show and Tell is Entomb. A first turn Entomb is usually game over for Mono-Red in Modern. Even if you can lock Reanimator under Ensnaring Bridge (problematic if you can't get Red cards out of your hand easily), you still need a way to eventually win.

Iona, Shield of Emeria can largely ignore its owners life total, because the opposing Red Deck can't cast burn spells and has to win with permanents already in play.

The downside of reanimator as a strategy is that you usually have to put so many cards into one creature. For instance if you went for the super crazy turn one play of:

 . . . You don't have a lot of cards left.

You're relying on Iona to get you there. On the play, the opponent might never have a chance to cast a card so it's no problem.

 . . . Unless of course they play a White card that plausibly catches you on a three-for-one.

Chained

To

The

Rocks

I can think of no other card I'd rather try in “Mono” Red to solve so many of this great, somewhat underrated, strategy's most well-known issues in Legacy.

That said . . . 

There is however one reason you might not want to play Chained to the Rocks (you know, assuming you could find the room) . . . 

It does make you somewhat vulnerable to Wasteland.

While Mountain is not vulnerable to Wasteland, the usual sequence of:

  1. Obtain your Plateau
  2. Cast Chained to the Rocks on some other land

Is vulnerable in the sense that you only have one Plateau. If the opponent hits it with a Wasteland, any future copies of Chained to the Rocks will be stuck in your hand. This will be terrible if, for instance, you're also trying to get down under an Ensnaring Bridge (like v. a Tarmogoyf deck).

It's also bad if Plateau is just your land. Sometimes — 21st land or no — you've got to go with the land you drew. And if you've only got one (or even 1-2) your flow might be badly interrupted by a well-placed Wasteland.

It's not like they're siding out Wasteland just because you don't have any main deck targets. They need Wasteland just to operate their own decks!

To me this is not enough of a downside to not try it.

Michael J. Flores

Unofficial Chained to the Rocks Director of PR