Czech (Pile) the Mirror
With the type of decks that I tend to play in Legacy, mirror matches tend to be among my favorites. There are so many intersecting factors that come into play which make the matches intricate and challenging. Miracles, Stoneblade, and Delver all present really complicated mirrors, which can range from having gigantic, early-game blowouts to really precise, late-game sequencing. My most recent endeavor, Czech Pile, is no different in this way. As a result of the popularity of the deck online, this is the matchup I have played the most of so far and I have spent some time trying to figure out the matchup. My sample size is still far too small for me to think that I have solved the matchup, but I have picked up a good idea of how I want to approach the matchup for now.
Part of the thing that makes this such a complicated matchup is how many different things end up mattering over the course of a game. Each of these things can easily snowball out of control, leaving one’s opponent too far behind to come back into the game. Not only that, but the things that matter completely change depending on how the cards were able to line up, and many individual strategies in the deck can invalidate others. For this reason, I have been thinking about the matchup in terms of “phases” and I will use that terminology here for ease of explanation.
Here is the decklist I have been playing:
Deathrite Shaman Phase
This is the first, and in many ways, most critical phase of the game. Deathrite Shaman is by far the best way that Czech Pile can start the game in the matchup (as it is with many matchups). The mana advantage it generates is incredibly difficult to battle back from. The deck has an abundance of 3 drops that either generate card advantage or completely warp the way the game is played. Ramping into those is completely devastating, of course, but that isn’t even the entire reason Deathrite is so warping in the matchup. Being able to cast a 2 drop and a cantrip on turn 2 might seem relatively underwhelming in the grand scheme of things, but simply being able to use more mana every turn than one’s opponent can really help pull a player ahead. The early turns of the Czech Pile mirror are often about trying to get whatever advantages one can. Simply having more mana than one’s opponent create such an advantage, this deck can really take advantage of it, and this is what makes me view it as such a threat.
Of course, the best answer to this threat is a removal spell. Deathrite Shaman remains a powerful card on turn 2, or even later in the game with the ability to hurt Snapcaster Mages and Kolaghan’s Commands, but the oppressive aspect of it is greatly diminished after turn 1. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible in the games we play. Playing one’s own Deathrite Shaman as a response is also somewhat inadequate because it opens up the door for 2 drop + removal spell or simply the clean 2 for 1 with Kolaghan’s Command. Right now, assuming there isn’t access to a removal spell, I think the best way to mana one’s cards in response to a turn 1 Deathrite is to use a cantrip. While this might seem like it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem, which is true, it allows us to setup a line to protect ourselves from the worst case scenarios that could come up. Specifically, it will allow the defending player to find a removal spell, which can both answer the Deathrite Shaman if nothing too devastating happens and it can hopefully answer Leovold, which is the absolute most devastating line.
Kolaghan’s Command Phase
This is the awkward grindy stage of the game that can come up mostly in the late game. For the most part, this comes up when both boards are relatively stable and now players want to try to pull ahead with 2 for 1s as much as possible. The first Kolaghan’s Command that gets cast to reasonable effect can be really backbreaking and often starts a chain that can be tough to break out of.
Luckily, this stage is a little easier to manage. For one, using one’s own Kolaghan’s Command can usually help mitigate the damage done on the card front. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is also a strong way of going over the top of it. If Jace can +2 even once, it can make it challenging for Kolaghan’s Command to do any serious damage to the Planeswalker, and Jace can definitely offset the card advantage gained from the Command. However, the best answer I have found has been Leovold. Not only does the Command not kill Leovold, but because Kolaghan’s Command has so many modes that target, it will often leave the Leovold player drawing 1 or 2 cards if it is used at all. For this reason, Leovold entering the battlefield can completely shut down the grind-engine and thus stop this phase of the game for a time.
The Jace Stage
As is always true, this is my favorite stage. Sometimes The Mind Sculptor can come down on a relatively stable board, and, like always, it can completely take over the game. The ability to swing the tempo with an unsummon can really matter in the middle stage of the game, and the card advantage is generates is still among the best Legacy has to offer. Simply generating cards isn’t the only reason that this is such a beating in the mirror. A single brainstorm might be enough to find an answer or two to the biggest problems that could come up, such as a Leovold. Getting to use that ability for more than 1 turn is often too much to battle back from, as there aren’t any cards in the deck that easily answer a resolved Jace.
The best answer to a Jace, bar none, is Leovold. If the controller of Jace doesn’t have a removal spell ready to go, Leovold almost spells the end of the Jace party by itself. It shuts dowms Jace’s best ability and greatly diminishes the efficacy of the other abilities. If Leovold is nowhere to be found, all hope is not lost. If Jace doesn’t get ticked up to 5 right away, a timely Lightning Bolt could just solve the problem right away. Even if it does, Bolt + Kolaghan’s Command/Snapcaster Mage do a fine job at keeping it in check. Sometimes just a Baleful Strix is left back to protect Jace, and Kolaghan’s Command can clear the way, deal 2 to Jace, and leave the door open to attack in and Kill the Planeswalker.
As it might have been alluded to, Leovold is the most powerful card in the matchup. The fact that it is almost always a 2 for 1 would be annoying by itself, but it turns off so many key cards in the matchup. Not only does it invalidate Kolaghan’s Command and Jace single handedly, it shuts down the cantrips so that the opponent can’t even try to find an answer to it. If that wasn’t enough, it is also a 3/3, which can conveniently mitigates the amount of damage that Snapcaster Mage gets to attack for, while being able to somewhat comfortably get in the red zone itself.
It is important to make sure that there’s always a removal spell sticking around in one’s hand to answer Leovold. Even if it can be Commanded back to their hand at some point, that might give you enough time to try to stabilize and get back in the game/use all of the cantrips. Preferably, if it is in the main deck, Toxic Deluge is often the most effective answer which doesn’t leave you behind on cards. Assuming that a removal spell never appears, the best way I have found to answer Leovold is to punch through it using Gurmag Angler. Gurmag Angler is a great creature in the matchup at times (while other times it gets totally blanked by Baleful Strix) seeing as its body being a 5/5 and its mana cost being 7 makes it line up well against the removal in the deck. Leovold doesn’t do a great job at preventing being attacked by a 5/5. Finally, a weird way to answer Leovold is to play one’s own. This sets the game up for some pretty bizarre sequences, but it can often leave both players in the same awkward situation which is much better than just being far behind.
This is one of the aspects of the matchup that make it the most difficult. Against the Jace and Kolaghan’s Command part of the game, removal is terrible, but a certain amount is necessary to deal with the other 2. Pyroblast is excellent against Jace and Leovold, but does nothing against Command and Deathrite. Hymn to Tourach has the potential to dismantle one’s game plan (although, I don’t think this card is a key piece in the matchup), but Flusterstorm doesn’t answer most of the key cards. All of this means that there needs to be a wide range of cards sided in and a lot needs to be hedged against. Currently, i’m boarding like this:
-4 Force of Will
-1 Fatal Push
-1 Hymn to Tourach
+1 Diabolic Edict
+1 Abrupt Decay
+1 Blue Elemental Blast
Flooding on removal is a serious concern, but some creatures need to die. Edict seems weird because there are so many incidental bodies that get in the way, but in the end game it is essential to have an answer to Gurmag Angler. Abrupt Decay doesn’t answer Deathrite Shaman on the critical turn, but being able to remove various problem cards (I’m looking at you, Liliana, the Last Hope) gives it a huge edge. Sometimes Flusterstorm will be the best card and other times it will be the worst, and you almost never want 2. Finally, the Blast effects are the best at their job and both get to answer most of the issues that are presented in the matchup.
Regarding the cards that are removed, the Push is basically exchanged for the Decay because there’s only so much removal that you want. I don’t think Hymn to Tourach is at its best in the matchup. So much of the matchup revolves around the board, but on turn 2 it can set up some brutal starts so you still want to have some number of them. Force of Will seems like an obvious cut because the matchup almost entirely revolves around card advantage, but I often want to keep some number of them in. Being able to tap out and protect a key spell, like Jace, is a powerful line. However, there are so many ways it can go wrong that I think we just have to suck it up and try to fight through the haymakers.
One thing to note is that there are a ton of ways to build the deck, so any information here could change somewhat greatly based on what your opponents are playing. There are a number of powerful cards that can really provide an edge in the matchup, like Liliana, the Last Hope or True-Name Nemesis, but I tend not to like playing cards like that in my decks. I think cards like that are great, and are sometimes even great in other matchups, too (Liliana is really good). However, I prefer to play more spell-based answers that are more versatile and efficient when I build decks, so these types of cards don’t really have much appeal to me.
This matchup is very complicated and it can be a huge blowout at times, like many mirror matches in Legacy. However, there are so many complicated decisions and lines that give the matchup a lot of play. Most games will devolve into some serious grindfests but this is what we signed up for. I have a lot to learn still and i’m going to keep trying to figure this matchup out. I hope this advice could provide a little bit of help, though!
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