New Decks in an Old Format

Rich Cali
December 27, 2017
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For the most part, I don’t really brew decks in Legacy. I don’t think i’m particularly good at it and the process of working on a deck idea improving it over time has never really appealed to me. I have always preferred to just play the stock decks of the format and tune them where I see fit. However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t like seeing what sweet decks people build and win with. For my last article of the year, I want to go over 2 of these sweet decks that I have played against which have put up some league 5-0s on Magic Online. These are both at the intersection of bold, new territory and innovative twists on existing archetypes, and that makes them very exciting to me.

As a disclaimer, I might not fully understand exactly the benefits and downsides of each of these decks. Both of them are pretty weird and might bring a really good matchup, or a cool interaction, to the table that I will probably miss. My goal here isn’t to break down each deck to its bare bones and explain it inside and out. Rather, I just want to explore some cool design space and shed some light on some cool innovation that has been happening in Legacy lately.

Volrath’s Shapeshifter by Phyrexianmtg

Volrath ReanimaterRich Cali Ashen Rider Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite Empyrial Archangel Griselbrand Hapless Researcher Oona's Prowler Volrath's Shapeshifter Island Misty Rainforest Polluted Delta Scrubland Swamp Tundra Underground Sea Gitaxian Probe Show and Tell Brainstorm Daze Flusterstorm Force of Will Intuition Lotus Petal Animate Dead Boomerang Disenchant Eidolon of Rhetoric Faerie Macabre Fatal Push Hydroblast Massacre Surgical Extraction Thoughtseize Trickbind

So this was definitely the deck that confused me the most. I had no idea Volrath’s Shapeshifter was even a card, and boy is it a weird one. At its core, this is a UB Reanimator deck which aims to bring out Griselbrand at a huge discount and bury its opponents in card advantage and countermagic. In some games, it can play out like a traditional reanimator deck: Discard Griselbrand, Animate Dead it back into play, and lock up the game. To this end, it also runs Show and Tell, which gives the deck the ability to play through a Deathrite Shaman. However, that’s not the only route this deck has to having a Griselbrand in play because this is a Volrath deck.  Volrath’s Shapeshifter is a bizarre clone for the top of one’s graveyard, which in this deck, makes it act as a 3-mana reanimation spell for Griselbrand. On its face, that is not strong enough for Legacy at all. The namesake card Reanimate can do this for a single mana. Even more so, there is no shortage of cards that cost 2-mana that reanimate creatures. So why play the Shapeshifter?

For starters, Shapeshifter is a discard outlet. You can deploy this bizarre “reanimation spell” proactively, without any creatures in the graveyard. Provided that you have enough mana, you can then discard any of your reanimation targets at will, playing around most removal spells that will be targeting the Shapeshifter. To this end, Volrath’s Shapeshifter can do exactly what its name implies and change its creature copy at will. This allows for some bizarre tricks, such as giving it shroud with Empyrial Archangel. Once the creature is in the graveyard, the creature being cloned is changed, which doesn’t even use the stack. This makes the unimpressive 0/1 quite the terrifying body.

In addition, Having Shapeshifter be the primary engine really allows this deck to get an edge is sideboard games. Removal tends to get sideboarded out against Reanimator, which means that the Shapeshifter is much safer already being in play. This means that the most common graveyard hate in the format, Surgical Extraction, has a substantially diminished effect on this deck. The Shapeshifter player can choose to discard Griselbrand whenever they find it to be the safest and when Griselbrand becomes the target of Surgical Extraction, the Shapeshifter player can just draw 14 cards in response.

I don’t know if this deck is actually better than the most common versions of Reanimator, but this is certainly one of the most innovative that I have seen in Legacy.

Opalesence + Parallax Wave Enchantress by Fjaulnir

Wave EnchantressRich Cali Doomwake Giant Savannah Plains Karakas Bayou Wooded Foothills Windswept Heath Serra's Sanctum Forest Starfield of Nyx Fertile Ground Oblivion Ring Cast Out Lotus Petal Replenish Commune with the Gods Enchantress's Presence Wild Growth Utopia Sprawl Sylvan Library Parallax Wave Opalescence Kruphix's Insight Sphere of Resistance Eidolon of Rhetoric Engineered Plague Enlightened Tutor Helm of Obedience Leyline of Sanctity Leyline of the Void Seal of Primordium Seeds of Innocence

 

Opalesence is a card that doesn’t see much play. For a long time, it was essentially treated as a joke card in the format that only really saw play in the ever-entertaining Leyline deck. However, Fjaulnir found a really sweet and really bizarre interaction that gives this deck the ability to completely remove the threat of most creatures for the rest of the game.

Parallax Wave is an Enchantment that enters the battlefield with 5 counters and has Fading 5, which means that counters get removed from it on your upkeep and when it has no counters to be removed it gets sacrificed. With Parallax Wave you can remove counters from it to exile target creature until Parallax wave leaves the battlefield, which acts as a means of saving your own creatures and temporarily remove your opponent’s creatures (and permanently remove tokens). However, when Opalesence is in play, Parallax wave is also a creature. So, this means that you can target Parallax Wave with its own ability and when it leaves play from this ability, it will automatically return to play with 5 counters on it. In the end, this allows you to use the old Oblivion Ring trick: Target your opponent’s creatures with Parallax Wave, then, retaining priority, target Parallax Wave with its own ability. The Wave will return with an exile still on the stack targeting your opponent’s creature. When that resolves, the ability to return the creatures exiled with Parallax Wave will have already happened, and their creatures will be exiled forever.

In some part, this deck basically plays like an Enchantress deck but doesn’t play any of the “hard-lock” Enchantments that we usually see in the deck, like Solitary Confinement, and instead relies on the Opalesence combo to lock up the game. In order to get to that point, this deck has a million different card draw engines. 4 Sylvan Libraries, 4 Enchantresses Presence, 4 Kruphix’s Insight, 2 Commune with the Gods, and 2 Replenish give the player so many ways to churn through their deck and assemble the creature-lock. It even plays Cast Out and Oblivion Ring to make sure it doesn’t just randomly lose to non-creature permaments, like Jace. Not being so reliant on Argothian Enchantress and a bunch of random enchantments to generate card advantage is really appealing to me. Drawing a bunch of cards off of the sorceries, or using Replenish to just put together the 1-2 punch of the deck gives the deck a cool new angle and a lot of redundancy.

I’m not sure what this direction gives the archetype outside of “infinite creature removal,” but that might be enough. Enchantress hasn’t really been much of a player lately, if it ever was. This deck shows that there is a lot of innovation left to the archetype and I’ll be excited to see what else can come from this.


Legacy is Sweet

These kind of off-the-wall strategies have never appealed to me as a player when i’m choosing decks. However, I love seeing what cool directions people take in Legacy. In many ways, it’s refreshing to have innovation like this in the world of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe. There has been a fair amount of talk that Legacy is stale at the moment. While I personally love playing it currently, the reasons why aren’t lost on me. Still, seeing really bizarre decks like this do well is inspiring, and is hopefully a good sign for the format going forward.

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