Czech (Pile) Yourself Before you Wreck Yourself
In this current format the Grixis shard has a lot to offer players that are looking to play a fair game of Magic. It gives players access to the full gamut of spells that a strategy needs to perform: Versatile, efficient removal spells, the blue cantrips and disruption we have come to love, and access to the best creatures Legacy has to offer. This shell is what makes Grixis Delver one of the strongest decks in Legacy right now and it is what has drawn me to the archetype. Despite its power and efficiency, attacking with cheap creatures and generating tempo isn’t traditionally my preferred way of playing Legacy. In fact, there is one thing that Grixis Delver specifically lacks which brings me great joy when it comes to playing Magic: Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Luckily for me, many players have been working on various Grixis-based control and midrange decks for me to jump into, the most popular of which is affectionately termed Czech Pile.
What is essentially a 4 color control deck, Czech Pile combines the efficiency of the Grixis shell with just about every powerful control element the colors have to offer. Having access to so many colors allows the deck to have substantial versatility in how it is built and played. In essence, the goal is to find a way to bridge the gap from the early to the late game. Once there, the deck seeks to either resolve a haymaker threat like Leovold or grind the opponent down with 2 for 1s like Kolaghan’s Command and Snapcaster Mage. Having access to Fatal Push and Snapcaster Mage makes it incredibly difficult for creature-based strategies to overwhelm the deck in the early and mid game. On the other hand, Czech Pile can play any number of spell-based disruptive spells to stop combo decks from ending the game too soon. Like many control decks, the deck can suffer from drawing the wrong half of the deck against any strategy. However, having access to 4 Brainstorm and 4 Ponder really allow the deck to choose its own destiny.
One of the huge draws to this deck is the power of Deathrite Shaman. This deck fully takes advantage of Deathrite’s ability to produce mana in order to shore up some of the mana problems that can come up. In addition, it allows the deck to pull ahead early, apply pressure, and disrupt the opponent’s gameplan. Death isn’t even enough to stop it in this deck because Kolaghan’s Command can return it, if need be. However, I think the the true power of Deathrite Shaman in this deck is its ability to power out Leovold. This allows the deck to become very proactive and forces the opponent to have the right answer as early as turn 2.
Due to the sheer cardpool this deck has access to, there are a few ways to build the deck. Which direction to take the deck depends a bit on playstyle and on metagame expectations. One approach is to emphasize blue mana and play more reactive spells:
This is the first version I was drawn to and was popularized when Sensei’s Divining Top was legal. Counterspell is a very powerful and relatively underutilized card in Legacy. Having access to more blue disruption allows the deck to shift between a fully reactive control deck and a proactive midrange deck. As a by-product of emphasizing blue cards, I like the way the manabase is built in this version more. Having every land but 2 tap for blue mana is great in a deck that has so many blue spells. However, in testing it recently I thought that this version underperformed. Having the bulk of the disruption be counter magic seems to greatly hurt the Storm matchup, as they can power through counter magic relatively easily, even when there’s a strong clock. The tension that is created between playing both threats, like Leovold, and answers, like Baleful Strix, that are cast at sorcery speed can be awkward to manage. Having access to Snapcaster Mage and Counterspell is nice, in theory, but I tend to play this deck a bit more proactively than this list requires. Holding up 4 mana on a critical turn of the game is not only difficult, but can set the deck too far behind on tempo.
The more popular variant emphasizes the importance of black mana and plays Hymn to Tourach:
This seemed like a more appropriate direction for the deck to take and i’m not surprised that it is the most common variant. Hymn to Tourach is an incredibly powerful card. Curving Hymn into Leovold can be incredibly difficult for a lot of blue decks to beat. It seems like the perfect 2 for 1 in this deck because this deck cares so much about slightly pulling ahead on cards on every turn. In conjunction with Deathrite Shaman, Hymn can be cast on turn 2 and then Snapcaster Mage can cast it against on turn 3. Having a more proactive, discard based game plan fits nicely into the sorcery-speed aspect of the deck. The key to managing a lot of combo decks is to both diversify the disruption and apply pressure. Having Hymn and Force of Will can make it more challenging for the deck to power through Czech Pile, while Deathrite Shaman and Snapcaster Mage can proactively apply pressure in this version.
However, I find the manabase in this version to be much worse. There’s a lot of tension between Bayou and Volcanic Island, not being able to cast Hymn to Tourach or Abrupt Decay. Even though this version doesn’t play Counterspell, I think this deck still emphasizes blue mana very highly, due to the high cantrip count, so playing Swamp, Badlands, and Bayou is a bit of a drag. Wasteland and Stifle become much more difficult to manage when a Deathrite Shaman isn’t in play because the deck can more easily be cut off from blue mana if the draw doesn’t line up. Having access to 2 basic lands seems more necessary than ever because of the popularity of Blood Moon (and this deck can play through Blood Moon with those 2 in play), but drawing either basic can be incredibly difficult on the manabase.
Despite this, I still think this is my preferred version. Grinding down opponents with discard spells and topping out the curve with a game-ending threat is an excellent place to be. This version has a lot of callback to Shardless Sultai, but feels much more interactive and less midrange-based. Transitioning from Grixis Delver, I admit that I do miss the early pressure. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Snapcaster Mage bring me more enjoyment than casting Delver of Secrets and Daze, but it is impossible to deny the power that the 1 mana creature brings to the table. However, Czech Pile can have similar tempo-draws to certain Delver decks thanks to the power of Deathrite Shaman. Combining that with cheap removal and Hymn to Tourach can really allow this deck to punish a lot of clunky starts.
Note on Matchups
As of now, I still have a relatively small sample size with the deck. I have not played every matchup into oblivion and I have certainly not mastered the facets of the matchups that matter. However, I have played against a few decks far more than others and have some initial thoughts on how they are skewed and on what might matter in each scenario. As such, I will just briefly discuss 3 relatively popular decks that I have played against and try to explicate some strengths and weaknesses Pile seems to have in each.
This matchup seems very close. If I had to choose, I would say that I think Storm is favored in game 1. This is the matchup that seems to result in the largest mismatch in card quality in the first game. There are so many dead/unimpactful cards in the main deck, and there are only a few cards that really matter in the matchup. When Hymn to Tourach can be cast with Force backup, assuming there’s a follow-up, it can be difficult to lose. However, Storm is incredible at casting hand disruption, so setting this up can be very challenging. Post-board, all of the completely dead or incredibly slow cards come out for disruptive spells, so it does get much better. Still, this deck does miss having a fast threat, and can give the opponent too much time to set up. Overall, this is the matchup in which I miss having Delver the most.
Death and Taxes
On the other end of the spectrum, this is the matchup wherein I miss Delver the least. Overall, I think this matchup is somewhat favorable. The sheer density of removal spells alone would be good in the matchup, but this deck also gets to pack the brutal 2 for 1 in Kolaghan’s Command to really start pulling ahead. After all of the dust settles, Czech Pile also has a selection of follow up threats which lone up really well against Death and Taxes. Leovold can greatly hurt their mana denial plan, and Jace has the ability to take the game over. That being said, they are a hard mana denial deck, and Pile is a deck with poor mana, so that is something to watch out for.
In playing this matchup I feel like I have learned more about how Grixis Delver is supposed to navigate the matchup than Czech Pile. The consensus seems to be that this is favorable for Czech Pile (which is also generally how I felt playing Grixis Delver), but I have not performed incredibly well against it so far. I think I tend to play scared against Delver opponents and haven’t adequately learned when to play around Daze in this deck. The deck simply having pressure and applying the mana denial plan can be very difficult to manage. In addition, although Baleful Strix does line up will against most of their threats, it is scary to just try to sit behind a creature and hope it lives for a few turns, thus mitigating their assault. Of all of the matchups, this is the one in which I have the most to learn at the moment in order to cross a certain hurdle of understanding. I am going to be focusing a lot of my effort in trying to figure this out and identify what I am doing wrong.
Verdict: Highly Recommended
I wanted to play a good Jace deck, and this one currently fits my playstyle more than some other options that exist. As a brief aside, I know I wrote about Miracles a few weeks ago, and that it is also a great Jace deck. I still think that deck is good, but that deck is incredibly complicated, and I found myself losing way more than I was winning. Because I had to make an executive decision to value my tickets on Magic Online, I am taking a break from that for now, but also, I still want to explore other sweet decks in the format and get a good idea of what all of these decks do. To those who like Miracles, don’t fret! I will return one day soon, but today is not that day.
Regarding Czech Pile, I really like this deck. It doesn’t do many cute things, but, instead, is a brutal card advantage machine. It gets to play a wide range of incredibly fun and powerful cards, and can really have a chance against almost any deck. I have heard some people tout this as the best deck in Legacy at the moment, and, while I still think Grixis Delver holds that title, I think this deck is not too far behind. I will absolutely keep playing this deck for now, and will definitely be posting more about the intricacies of the deck going forward!
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