Nate's Thoughts on Dig Through Time Being Banned in Legacy

September 29, 2015

The ebb and flow of powerful cards and strategies in Magic is to me an interesting discussion topic. Occasionally, Wizards lets cards through the cracks that do not function as intended (Deceiver Exarch+Splinter Twin, Vampire Hexmage+Dark Depths, Opalescence+Parallax Wave, etc), but perhaps more frequently and more importantly, individual cards that are simply a cut or two above all other cards sometimes end up making it through the development process unnoticed. Skullclamp, Jace the Mind Sculptor, and most recently Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise are certainly outliers when it comes to what sort of power level Wizards is OK with tacking onto one Magic card. Unsurprisingly it didn't take very long for Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time to catch on in competitive play, and today's banned and restricted list update marks the end of a fun albeit short-lived era of blue delve spell-dominance in Legacy.

So what does this mean for the Legacy metagame going forward? I think:

  • Omni-Tell is no longer a tier 1 deck; Sneak & Show will reclaim its place at the top
  • Grixis Control may or may not be a deck at all
  • Stoneblade is back, and Miracles never left the building
  • With the exception of U/R Delver, Delver decks are still insane
  • Basically any non-blue deck that wasn't preying on Dig Through Time got much better

Omni-Tell specifically benefited from being able to play Dig Through Time more than any other popular archetype. The issue that Omni-Tell faced before Khans of Tarkir was released was a lack of redundancy when compared to Sneak & Show. Omni-Tell needs to have Show and Tell, Omniscience, and a Wish before it can go off - that is, it requires three pieces that are irreplaceable, and if you don't have all of them, your deck doesn't do anything. Sneak & Show only needs Show and Tell or Sneak Attack, and Emrakul or Griselbrand to go off. In other words, it only needs one creature and one way to cheat it into play, and any combination thereof is usually good enough to win, and it is easy enough to fill these prerequisites without casting a card like Dig Through Time. The reason Dig Through Time was so good in Omni-Tell specifically was that it found the pieces you were missing to go off, or gave you enough resources to go off through your opponent's resistance, or both. Without Dig, the deck is not only more fragile but also less consistent. People might still try to play Omni-Tell, but that in my opinion is a terrible, terrible idea.

Fair decks that don't rely on Dig Through Time to accrue card advantage get a huge boon from today's banned and restricted update. Even non-blue decks like Maverick, Jund and Aggro-Loam no longer have to compete with Dig and are looking more playable than ever. Additionally, many blue fair decks were basically all playing Dig Through Time because there was no reason not to, but for many of them it was not the crux of their strategy. Decks like Miracles, Stoneblade, and Shardless Sultai have card advantage engines that match that of Dig Through Time without being as straightforward and linear, and I predict that these decks are still very good. However, decks like Grixis Control and Esper Mentor are mostly enabled by Dig Through Time and I don't expect they will see much play now that the card is banned. The Cabal Therapy+Pyromancer/Mentor combo is still powerful but I'm not sure it's enough on its own for those archetypes to continue existing in a form similar to what they are now. Because I'm attached to the archetype, I'm working on a Grixis Control deck similar to what I played at the SCG Open in DC:

Grixis Control by Nate Barton4 Young Pyromancer
2 Snapcaster Mage
2 Baleful Strix
1 Gurmag Angler
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
1 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
4 Ponder
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Fact or Fiction
1 Kolaghan's Command
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Cabal Therapy
1 Counterspell
1 Murderous Cut
1 Innocent Blood
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Polluted Delta
1 Misty Rainforest
4 Volcanic Island
3 Underground Sea
2 Island

I came across the idea of playing Fact or Fiction in Grixis when I saw Nick Spagnolo was running it as a one-of in his Grixis Control list at SCG Worcester this past spring. I haven't tried it yet, but I think it may be this archetype's saving grace. I've changed up many other slots in the deck as well. With Dig Through Time no longer hogging up my graveyard on its own, I slotted in some delve spells in Gurmag Angler, Tasigur, and Murderous Cut. However, a major issue I foresee occurring with this list is that it may get hands that are clogged up with both Fact or Fictions and delve spells, AKA hands that don't do anything at all unless the game goes long. When the deck was a Dig Through Time deck, the only bad hands were ones that had too many Digs that you couldn't cast right away, which was mitigated by the huge upside of having four Digs in your deck. Whether or not the deckbuilding costs of playing Fact or Fiction alongside delve spells are worth it remains to be seen, but I'll be testing this deck out in the coming weeks and finding out for myself. I also may draft up a version playing Deathrite Shamans and one less delve spell and see how that performs, but ultimately my goal is to be able to play Young Pyromancer and Cabal Therapy in a shell that is stable enough to compete with the Legacy metagame, and that is looking like a challenge without the presence of Dig Through Time in the card pool.

Ultimately, today's banned and restricted announcement was to me somewhat bittersweet. Much of my success in the Legacy format over the past year has been with decks playing Dig Through Time, and I'm certainly somewhat sad to see it go. But at the same time, I've realized over the course of the year that Dig Through Time is a completely busted Magic card, and this realization only became more and more clear each time I cast it. But with every end comes a new beginning, and I'm excited for Legacy tournament results to start being posted so I can get a grip on the format again.

I guess I should also mention that Black Vise got unbanned, but playing Black Vise in your deck feels like the equivalent of bringing a balloon animal to a gun fight.

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