While decks using Painter’s Servant and Grindstone have existed for a long time in Legacy, they’ve greatly fallen out of favor in recent years. Imperial Painter (affectionately called Strawberry Shortcake in the Legacy community) is historically the most common variant. Recently, stalwart of the archetype Utley26 finished in the Top 4 of the Legacy Showcase Challenge with the deck. There aren’t too many decks in Legacy that work like this deck does, so it’s always exciting to see it around the top of a tournament.
Let’s take a look at the deck list and see how the deck works.
Legacy Imperial Painter by Utley26
The primary plan is to combine Painter’s Servant and Grindstone for a quick one-two punch that’ll generally end the game on the spot. Cards like Imperial Recruiter and Enlightened Tutor make this rather consistent, and Goblin Welder/Engineer give the combo resiliency.
Karn provides a way to tutor excess copies of the combo and additionally provides the deck with an additional toolbox of cards. Cards like Ensnaring Bridge and Blood Moon give the deck a prison-lite element. If all else fails, Smuggler’s Copter gives you a lot of extra value out of random bodies lying around.
There are a lot of different pieces to this deck so let’s jump right into the card choices.
While these are the core combo pieces in the deck, each provides an additional function which allows Imperial Painter to play a longer game. With a Welder in play, milling yourself with Grindstone can provide access to different cards and even help enable the combo. Painter’s Servant provides a lot of extra functionality, as with it in play, Pyroblast can now target anything and crewing Smuggler’s Copter provides a decent amount of extra usage out of the body.
Not only are these cards generally good in Legacy, in conjunction with Painter’s Servant, they turn into one-mana Vindicates, which is extremely powerful. This essentially means they’re rarely dead and even on their face, they tend to have a lot of targets in Legacy.
These cards both help assemble the combo and provide a ton of utility in this deck. Imperial Recruiter can search up every creature in the deck, which will allow you to find the perfect card for the situation. This kind of subtle two-for-one gives this deck a lot of grind potential and helps it play a long game against a lot of archetypes.
Enlightened Tutor doesn’t allow for the same type of grinding, but it can search up either half of the combo or any of the prison elements of the deck, which really gives this deck an important dimension.
These two cards provide a ton of resiliency to the deck. Being able to recur artifacts at will makes it difficult to break up both the combo and prison elements of the deck. They often act as lightning rods for removal too, which makes it more likely that Painter will stick around.
One of the best newer tools for the deck, Karn functions as both a tutor and an alternate game plan. Being able to find the missing combo piece, a prison element or just turn your artifacts into threats is pretty great. Importantly, if you’re playing against a deck with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Karn can also tutor Tormod’s Crypt, which will allow you to Grindstone combo and exile the graveyard with the trigger on the stack.
While this might seem like a weird card to include, seeing that Smuggler’s Copter doesn’t have much of a Legacy pedigree, it’s very strong in this deck. There are plenty of random bodies sitting around on the board and a 3/3 flyer that loots every turn is a pretty real clock. It makes your opponents use their removal in undesirable ways and pressures both the opponent and planeswalkers in ways this deck wasn’t able to before.
These give the deck a fair amount of speed early in the game and also provides a nice mana engine with Goblin Welder. If you’re desperate enough, you can use Imperial Recruiter to tutor Spirit Guide, which is a nice bit of additional utility.
These make up the creature toolbox. Goblin Cratermaker lets you answer cheap creatures like Delver or potent artifacts (and somehow Emrakul as well). Ethersworn Canonist is one of the best anti-storm creatures out there, and it also gets tutored off of Enlightened Tutor as well.
These make up the Enlightened Tutor toolbox. Ensnaring Bridge will often mean lights out against most creature decks, while also stopping decks like Sneak and Show in their tracks. Blood Moon is one of the best cards at ending the game against decks that rely on nonbasic lands, so having that here is extremely potent. Lion’s Eye Diamond provides this deck a massive boost of mana on a turn that you need to combo off with Grindstone, so having access to it can be crucial.
These really provide this deck with a massive boost in mana and let the deck both combo off and resolve lock pieces ahead of schedule.
This deck is mostly red and two Plateaus are enough for the three white cards. Even though this deck has Blood Moon, you really don’t need a basic Plains, as it’s more likely to mess up the mana than help.
Sometimes you have to kill creatures, and Lightning Bolt excels at that job.
As is always the case in Legacy, you need to have ways to answer graveyard decks. Surgical Extraction does so in the fastest possible way, but might not always be effective enough. Tormod’s Crypt is a bit slower and you can’t use it on the draw very well, but it’s a bit more comprehensive in its exiling. It also works as a Karn target, so if you’re not playing against a turbo graveyard deck, you can just leave this in the board.
A tutorable way to kill artifacts and/or enchantments, Duergar Hedge-Mage has always been a staple of this archetype.
Here we have two different Karn targets that solve a variety of issues that may come up. These are versatile cards that can be really useful to find with Karn. Sometimes you’re going to need them a bit earlier on in the game, so sideboarding them in could be useful.
These are additional copies of cards played in the main deck that function as Karn targets. Depending on how crucial it is to have these early, it might be better to side them in if you’re concerned about losing too quickly (such as needing Canonist early against TES, for instance).
This is the fourth copy that essentially gives Imperial Painter six copies of the card since Karn can tutor this. It’s going to be better to leave this in the board almost every time, as turning Karn into additional copies of your combo piece is really effective, but if you’re playing against a deck when you need to combo as fast as possible, it might be better to bring it in.
- If you have a Goblin Welder and Grindstone in play and a Painter’s Servant in your graveyard, you can activate Grindstone targeting your opponent, then activate Welder to exchange Grindstone with Painter’s Servant and this will mill your opponent out.
- Goblin Welder can interact with your opponent’s artifacts, if that’s something that’s relevant.
- If Painter’s Servant gets Swords to Plowshares’d, Karn can tutor it from exile.
- If you don’t have a creature to crew Copter, upticking Karn on it will still give it flying and the loot ability.
Karn is pretty slow in this matchup and isn’t really working towards winning the game fast enough. I’d rather just take him out and bring in the tutor targets, which will generally help make the deck less clunky against Delver. Bolt doesn’t kill too many creatures beyond Delver, but having an extra removal spell seems good. Ensnaring Bridge is one of the best cards, so I like working towards that plan.
There isn’t too much in the sideboard for this matchup, but I think that’s fine. Imperial Painter can play a long game pretty well, and having six Pyroblast effects is really strong here. Magus of the Moon isn’t really great, but a Blood Moon that attacks might provide enough disruption to buy some time.
Death and Taxes
The Pyroblasts aren’t horrendous here because they still work well with Painter’s Servant, but without Servant, they’re of course lacking. Mostly, you’re just cutting cards that don’t do a lot for removal spells, which should be really useful against this deck.
Doomsday is a scary deck for archetypes like Imperial Painter. There aren’t that many meaningful pieces of disruption for their combo and they can kill pretty quickly. I think trying to find a hand that can mill them out relatively fast is pretty crucial, but even just finding Grindstone might let you make their life a bit awkward (milling them out is easier when they’re on five cards in their deck).