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Dazed and Confused: Playing With (and Around) Daze

Daze has a long pedigree in Legacy and for good reason. Free counter magic is at a premium in Magic and in a format like Legacy, where the average power level of the cards played is very high, being able to protect your cards for no additional mana investment is powerful. Daze’s very presence has a huge impact on every game it’s involved in and it warps the way people have to built their decks across the format. In addition, there’s a lot of nuance that goes into playing with and against Daze that makes it one of the more interesting cards in Legacy.

Today I want to go into depth on why decks play Daze, the necessary evaluations that should be made when playing Daze and some of the better ways to play around it. It’s a very complicated card and, as such, there’s no chance that I’ll fully do the card justice. However, I hope to provide some clarity on some of the important elements of the card which will hopefully make it a bit easier to understand some of the intricacies of casting a Daze.

Daze Decks

Over the past few years Daze has become ubiquitous with Delver of Secrets. It’s perfectly positioned to back up cheap, aggressive creatures that force opponents to act before they’re ready. This isn’t the only place Daze might shine though, so I want to start by taking a look at some decks, past and present, that use Daze in them and evaluating why it warrants inclusion.

Legacy RUG Delver by Rich Cali

Starting with Delver, this is the de facto best Daze deck in Legacy. At each point of the curve, Daze helps protect a key card and provides insurance that the Delver player won’t lose to something unforeseen. Wasteland, and occasionally Stifle, helps Daze function as a “hard” counterspell in a lot of circumstances and I would be surprised if there is ever a deck that uses the card more effectively.

The modern day version of RUG Delver is rather different from older versions of RUG Delver, circa 2012, referred to here as Canadian Threshold to minimize complication. These days, Daze is mostly used to back up cards that have a tendency to win the game if you resolve them, like Oko, Thief of Crowns and Dreadhorde Arcanist. Back in the day, Canadian Threshold used Daze in conjunction with a potent mana denial plan of Stifle and Wasteland in order to transform Daze into a free version of Counterspell. Cards like Nimble Mongoose aren’t quite powerful enough to win the game on their own but it does tend to win the game if your opponent cannot cast a meaningful spell in time.

This might seem like semantics but I think the differences between these two approaches are key and each of them seek to play Daze in a different manner. Being aware of this difference has an influence on how you choose to play the card when in a game.

Doomsday by MM_17

Daze isn’t limited to just fair, interactive decks. Combo decks like Doomsday can make great use of the card. One of the keys to beating combo decks often lies in applying pressure and backing it up with disruption. Playing Daze in a deck like Doomsday can punish opponents that opt to progress their board state instead of holding open mana. It removes the need for the Doomsday player to have excess mana to protect its combo, which makes the critical turn can happen earlier. It doesn’t scale well into the late game but on the flipside its presence in this deck tends to slow down an opponent’s ability to develop their plan which buys Doomsday time to set up.

Legacy Mentor Miracles by Claudio Bonnani

Dredging up a deck of Legacy’s past, Claudio Bonnani won GP Lille with an aggressive variant of Mentor Miracles. Mentor Miracles is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to Daze decks. Many people viewed Miracles as the premier control deck of the time but this version of Miracles had a lot of elements akin to a combo or tempo deck. Despite the fact that this deck did want to hit its first three to four land drops, Mentor Miracles had the most powerful one-two-three curve in the format and forced opponents to have interaction very early. Protecting Monastery Mentor for even a single turn was often enough to win the game and the same went for Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top

This deck is a case study in where Daze truly shines. When your game plan involves relatively cheap engines and is powerful enough to win the game if it resolves, Daze will often be a premier card. In that regard, modern day RUG Delver decks are more similar to Mentor Miracles than a deck like Canadian Threshold, which is a bit of a weird statement. Canadian Threshold tended to eek out victories, winning the game just before your opponent was able to stabilize. In contrast, RUG Delver can battle blow for blow with just about any opponent and still come out on top. This is because the RUG Delver game plan focuses on resolving potent, game ending cards more than eking out small advantages.

Daze Timing

When you have Daze in hand you can often cast it as early as your first turn. However, this might not be correct and might do more harm to you than your opponents. Every deck is different and there are some broad questions that can help you evaluate when it might be correct to cast the card

First, what is your deck’s game plan as a whole? (Macro)

Second, what is your plan in the game you are currently playing? (Micro)

I separated these out because I think both are important to keep in mind when using Daze in a game of Magic. Regarding the game plan on a macro level, it’s key to evaluate what purpose Daze is serving for your deck. If you’re playing Doomsday, then Daze is much more valuable as a way to prevent your opponents from disrupting you. Dazing a three drop like, say, Oko, Thief of Crowns, might be tempting, but if you are planning to cast Doomsday on the following turn it’s far more important to have that Daze in hand to protect your Doomsday because resolving that card is the core plan of your deck. 

On the other hand, if you’re playing RUG Delver, Daze might be more important as a defensive tool. Dazing a removal spell, say, Swords to Plowshares, on a Dreadhorde Arcanist when your opponent casts it on your end step with no open mana might be tempting, but if you can’t beat them casting an Oko on the following turn, Daze might have a more important purpose. 

The reason I included the addition of the micro level (that is, evaluating your plan in a given game) is because this is all contextual. In RUG Delver sometimes it’ll be right to protect your Dreadhorde Arcanist because your route to victory involves keeping it in play. Similarly, sometimes you will have to Daze a card like Delver of Secrets when playing Doomsday because your plan involves leveraging your life total as a resource while you set up.

The point I’m trying to get across here is that Daze is an extremely versatile card and if you want to maximize how effective it is, you need to ask yourself what you need the card to do. I tend to be a bit of a broken record on this topic but when the conversation turns towards strategy I think one of the most important elements to improving at Magic is having a plan. Being able to map out what your route to victory is throughout the game (and, importantly, updating it as the game develops) is essential to extracting the most value out of your cards, especially Daze.

DazeBrainstormForce of WillTarmogoyf

To illustrate this with an example, in an article about RUG Delver when Wrenn and Six was legal, Daryl Ayers talked about a play wherein his opponent cast a Lightning Bolt on his Delver of Secrets. Daryl’s hand consisted of a Daze, Brainstorm, Force of Will, Tarmogoyf and land. As he put it, “Without a second thought I used Force of Will removing Brainstorm to save my Delver.” This might look counterintuitive, as Daze would trade very cleanly with the Lightning Bolt. However, Daryl’s plan in the matchup was to be the aggressor and if he could untap and follow up his Delver with a Tarmogoyf then he would be in a dominant position. By having a plan, he knew what the purpose of his cards were and was able to make a consistent play that optimized his plan.

What is Your Deck’s Critical Turn?

Since Daze’s drawback is setting yourself behind on mana, it’s absolutely essential to understand the key turns that you can afford to do this. By this, I’m referring to the turn in which your deck can really start to develop its plan. For instance, in the case of Dimir Ninjas, that turn is on turn two, since that’s when you can first put a ninjutsu creature into play. As a result, Dazing on turn one will often set you back further than your opponent and prevent you from progressing your game plan. 

Yuriko, the Tiger's ShadowIngenious InfiltratorChangeling Outcast

The critical turn might also shift based on how a game develops. I generally consider turn two to be RUG Delver’s critical turn, as it’s the first turn you can cast two one drops or resolve a Dreadhorde Arcanist. However, if my hand consists of an Oko and no other threat, my critical turn in that game is going to be turn three. Dazing before that turn will prevent me from developing and cost me the ability to progress my plan. 

My goal here isn’t to list each deck’s critical turn as there are far too many decks for that but instead to illustrate that understanding. How much mana your deck needs in order to function at peak level can make Daze decisions clearer and hopefully improve on win percentage.

What Do You Need to Be Concerned With?

I alluded to this in the first point, but understanding what you need to interact with is another key element of using Daze. This will often change from game to game and requires attention to the weaknesses of your hand. There are a lot of powerful cards in Legacy but some of them your deck might be more well-suited to manage than others. Countering Chalice of the Void might be essential if your hand only consists of one drops, but if your hand is entirely two drops and you can mostly ignore its effect, it might be correct to let it resolve.

Show and TellDoomsday

This is also the point where you might have to ignore the consideration for a deck’s critical turn. If your opponent is about to resolve a Show and Tell, it doesn’t matter if your deck can’t develop its plan until the second turn. If Show and Tell resolves you will probably lose the game. Those are forced plays and while they might feel bad, they are necessary. However, there are times where it’s less clear that the spell will end the game on the spot, which can make it a difficult decision.

For instance, let’s say you’re playing Doomsday on the draw and don’t have the ability to win the game any time soon but your opponent casts Dreadhorde Arcanist. Arcanist isn’t going to end the game upon hitting the battlefield but it will generate an overwhelming amount of card advantage and potentially make it nigh-impossible to resolve Doomsday. Setting yourself back to a single mana going into your second turn will feel really bad in this case but if it sticks around, your chances of winning might be slim. This is a difficult situation to be in but again, understanding your plan in a given game will hopefully make it a bit easier to manage in the moment.

Daze Counterplay

Sometimes you’re the player who is facing down Daze and it can be difficult to know the best way to navigate it. In fact, I think this is one of the primary reasons people don’t like playing against Delver. The feeling of “they always have it” is especially prominent when it’s a free card that denies a player a key spell. I do think there are ways to mitigate the damage the card does in a given game.

Play Into It

I’m starting with the counterintuitive one but this was a major level-up moment for me. In an effort to play around Daze you might be setting yourself back too far to actually develop your game plan. If your hand has both a two and three drop but no other plays on turns two and three, waiting a turn to play around Daze might leave you too far behind on board for those cards to be meaningful. Trying to power through a Daze is often the right way to play through it. Furthermore, there is a cost that comes along with Daze so it might be secretly beneficial for you if your opponents set themselves back a land early in the game. Your opponent might not be mindful of what their critical turn is and stunt their own development. Try to seek out those moments, where you might actually pull ahead if they cast Daze and cast your spells at that moment.

Play More Basics and Cheap Interaction in Your Deck

Decks like Snowko have an easier time playing around Daze because they can safely develop their mana base. By playing a large amount of basics, combined with cheap removal and disruption, Snowko is able to play slightly off-curve and avoid exposing their spells to a stray Daze

Play Your Spells at Inconvenient Times

This is an effort to try to maximize the benefits you get from the drawback of your opponent’s Dazes. The best time to take advantage of this is often on your opponent’s upkeep, as that will set them back on mana development for the turn. While your spell might still not resolve, you might be able to take advantage of the newly gained mana advantage, which might make it more difficult for your opponents to stay at parity.

Play a Deck That Naturally Plays Around It

There are some decks that play around Daze very well. Death and Taxes is a great example of this. Between Aether Vial blanking counter magic and the ability to pressure an opponent’s mana base (which means you can take advantage of the mana advantage in a more meaningful way), Daze is often relatively ineffective in that matchup. In a different way, Elves plays around it by generating an excess of mana and playing Allosaurus Shepherd to blank it completely. If you find Daze to be a serious thorn in your side, there are definitely decks that can minimize its impact which might be worth exploring.

The Depth of Daze

More than anything, I think this article has illustrated to me that Daze is a very complicated card. I certainly haven’t covered the strategic depths of Daze here and there’s a lot more to be said about it that spans beyond a single article. However, I think many of the concepts I covered here are critical features of Daze. Consciously considering what Daze can and should do for you in a given game will go a long way and I hope that some of these ideas can be useful in your future endeavors!

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