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Legacy Weapon – Izzet Week—or Deathrite Shaman, My New Love

Sneak and Show, UR Delver, Omniscience—even the old Standstill-based archetypes like UR Standstill and UR Stiflenaught are competitive options for the Izzet mage. Unfortunately, they aren’t where I want to be, and the integrity of my column is almost entirely based around decks that I’m willing to bring to a tournament. Since I wouldn’t bring UR to a tournament anytime soon, I won’t be writing about it. This way, if my reader’s listen to me and I’m wrong (not that that’s ever happened, mind you), they can take solace in knowing that I paid the price for my folly as well.

Keep your Fire/Ices in the binder, folks, because today I want to talk about [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card].

My love of Deathrite Shaman was recently kicked off by my Deathrite Ale list that Josh Hetricks piloted to Top 8 in St. Louis. You can read about that here.

It wasn’t until I played a port of the deck this last weekend at the Grand Prix that I got to feel how Deathrite worked over the span of a larger event. Having a black mana producer is sweet, especially when it doubles as a main deck graveyard hoser, lifegain, and [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] for the opponent’s life total. Openers that featured the innocuous 1/2 felt much more powerful, and I saw many an opponent’s plan shift once it hit the table.

[card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] has a full set of relevant abilities. Like [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], the card is underplayed to start, and like the Ooze it’ll pick up speed. Never before has black had a one-drop mana dork, and it should change how black mages approach the game. With access to a premier accelerator, our focus should be on the three-drop and what we can do with it that we couldn’t before.

The other decks to benefit are ones that wanted more main deck graveyard hate. I recently watched BW beat Reanimator on a mull to four. The four? Three lands and a [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]! Since the card comes down turn one, it’s a relevant hoser against the turn one/two graveyard decks of Legacy, and I’ve had positive results against both Reanimator and Dredge.

There are some things that Deathrite will never do. Unlike [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], he can’t pressure opposing [card]Crucible of Worlds[/card]. Where [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] encourages you to leave a mana open for [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], you’ll want to activate Deathrite every turn, which is easier for the blue mages to play around. These are quibbles, however.

UB Deathrite

My first notion was a UB control deck. A higher curve! With more mana for Topping, and Snapcasting, and manlanding! What’s not to love?

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Underground Sea
1 Swamp
1 Mishra’s Factory
4 Polluted Delta
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Verdant Catacombs
2 Island
1 Tropical Island
3 Wasteland
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Snapcaster Mage
4 Baleful Strix
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Thoughtseize
2 Spell Snare
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Counterspell
1 Go for the Throat
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
1 Doom Blade
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Sideboard
2 Pithing Needle
2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Submerge
1 Virtue’s Ruin
1 Darkblast
2 Engineered Plague
1 Perish
2 Dread of Night[/deck]

I started this deck as I start most lists: with a sweet idea. Mana dudes are something that’s never been given to black before, and re-imagining old archetypes to see how he fits is an excellent place to start. Sure, he’ll probably open up some new, unexplored territory, but to reach the ends of the Earth we must first cross the known, mapped seas. As a lover of casting sweet spells before my opponent, I wanted to try him out in a UB control shell, pushing out turn two [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card]’s and turn three [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jaces[/card].

One of UB’s weaknesses in Legacy is getting run over by a cheap threat like [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] or [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card], as the colors lack both [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] and [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card]. The simple answer is to add a third color, which would in turn increase the potency of our [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s. Deathrite, by tapping for any color, would then act as a fixer. For now, I addressed the problem by including [card]Baleful Strix[/card], which can trade with the format’s deadliest threats for value.

I would like to try a more aggressive take on UB, perhaps featuring [card]Dark Confidant[/card], [card]Bitterblossom[/card], and [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card]. Equipment would make better use of the smaller bodies in the deck, and could allow for more situational creatures like [card]Gatekeeper of Malakir[/card], which is just as good against creature decks as [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] is against control and combo.

If the deck is to stay a control deck, there are a lot of paths that aren’t explored here. [card]Crucible of Worlds[/card], [card]Temporal Mastery[/card], [card]Vedalken Shackles[/card], and [card]Trinket Mage[/card] are all options with merit.

What Deathrite Does for this Deck

My initial idea was that the curve could stretch all the way up to [card]Grave Titan[/card], but after some early testing I decided the extra mana from Deathrite wasn’t dependable enough. The card has a giant target on it in a lot of matchups, such as against RUG where you need the mana most. As such, it’s better to find other, less clunky sinks. I’m still grateful for the early acceleration, and the occasional extra mana for Topping and activating manlands.

Deathrite doubles as a win condition. While we lack the Titan that I wanted, the combination of [card]Creeping Tar Pit[/card] and [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] gives a lot of reach, closing games faster than one might expect.

Finally, incidental lifegain is great in control decks. While there is only one green producing land, the miser’s Tropical, at least it’s tutorable by every fetchland in the deck.

Jund

Lately, I’ve seen Jund placing at a variety of Legacy events, and the archetype might have something to it. Consider this list by Álex Sáenz, which he used to Top 8 a sixty-person tournament.

[deck]Main Deck:
1 Badlands
1 Taiga
1 Mountain
2 Forest
3 Swamp
3 Bloodstained Mire
3 Wooded Foothills
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Chrome Mox
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Destructive Flow
3 Bitterblossom
4 Thoughtseize
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Maelstrom Pulse
3 Abrupt Decay
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Dark Confidant
4 Bloodbraid Elf
2 Scavenging Ooze
Sideboard
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Destructive Flow
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Red Elemental Blast
1 Pyroblast
2 Sulfur Elemental
2 Kitchen Finks
2 Graftdigger’s Cage
2 Slaughter Games
1 Perish
1 Nature’s Ruin[/deck]

My first impression of the above list is that a turn two [card]Destructive Flow[/card] is nigh unbeatable for some archetypes. My second impression is that, if [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] were to finally take off, Jace would get much worse.

My problem with [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] here is that it’s going to hit discard too often. [card]Tidehollow Sculler[/card] costs an efficient two mana, and would be deemed overcosted at four. I’d like to see some of the one-mana discard split into [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] to have more reach and impact on the board.

As much as I like the value that Bloodbraid offers, we might want something different. [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] is also resilient to countermagic and carries equipment well. [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] is underplayed and seems fantastic against anyone who plans on [card]Terminus[/card]ing our board away (though the above manabase can’t support him). However, neither of these cards can accomplish Bloodbraid’s subtlest feat, which is increasing the velocity of our deck. A build with four cascade spells will see its cards more often on average, and thus increased consistency.

What Deathrite Does for this Deck

While it’s true that this deck is base green, and could’ve used [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] before, [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] is a much less embarrassing card to cascade into. That said, a lot of that work is undone by the inclusion of [card]Chrome Mox[/card]. While the Mox is a fine way to accelerate our two-drops that want more turns in play ([card]Bitterblossom[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card]), it can make the cascade fairly erratic. As such, I’m increasingly convinced that Bloodbraid is worse than Thrun in the above list, though I haven’t tested it thoroughly so that should be taken with a grain of salt.

Something that sets Deathrite apart from [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] is that, like [card]Noble Hierarch[/card], he can carry a Jitte. This matters in long, grindy games where the opponent has managed to remove all of your major threats.

Perhaps the reach that Deathrite affords us can cover the loss of [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], but I’d rather see the two cards together. Bolt is, after all, one of the absolute best cards in Legacy.

If I were to play this archetype tomorrow, this is what my list would look like:

[deck]2 Mountain
3 Forest
3 Swamp
1 Bayou
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Wooded Foothills
1 Taiga
1 Badlands
1 Scavenging Ooze
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Dark Confidant
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Chrome Mox
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Thoughtseize
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Sarkhan the Mad
1 Maelstrom Pulse
3 Liliana of the Veil
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Destructive Flow[/deck]

One downside to this list is that [card]Bitterblossom[/card] + equipment is such an excellent plan against Miracles. I do like the changes overall, though. The miser’s Top keeps the gas flowing and has the potential to set up cascades. The singleton [card sarkhan the mad]Sarkhan[/card] seems strange at first, but so far I’ve found him powerful enough to be worth the inclusion.

While Deathrite can potentially make our ‘Goyfs weaker, I don’t think the risk is enough to keep me from playing two of the best creatures in the game. If Jund takes off in Legacy, it should use [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], just as it does in Modern.

Elves

[card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] has two creature types. One allows us to snag free equips off our [card]Thornbite Staff[/card] (value!), while the other helps us produce a lethal amount of mana with [card]Heritage Druid[/card].

I’ve heard a few people discuss the possibility of [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] in Elves, but so far I’ve only seen it place a few times. Perhaps this is because Elves in general has fallen out of favor, but I do think the deck improves with the new 1/2. Not because the deck needed another one-drop mana producer, but because of the graveyard interactions.

Here is the list I’d run tomorrow:

[deck]Main Deck:
2 Gaea’s Cradle
1 Horizon Canopy
2 Savannah
1 Bayou
2 Forest
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Verdant Catacombs
1 Pendelhaven
1 Dryad Arbor
2 Mirror Entity
1 Viridian Shaman
1 Regal Force
1 Scavenging Ooze
3 Deathrite Shaman
2 Quirion Ranger
1 Priest of Titania
3 Birchlore Rangers
3 Llanowar Elves
2 Fyndhorn Elves
4 Heritage Druid
4 Elvish Visionary
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Wirewood Symbiote
4 Glimpse of Nature
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
Sideboard
1 Gaddock Teeg
3 Luminarch Ascension
2 Meekstone
2 Humility
3 Thorn of Amethyst
1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Mortarpod
1 Pithing Needle[/deck]

As you can see, I’m not reinventing the wheel here, and the Deathrites largely took the place of existing [card llanowar elves]Llanowar[/card] and [card]Fyndhorn Elves[/card]. I used to run 6-7 of this effect, but since the Deathrites aren’t quite as consistent I view the above list as having 5-8, which is roughly the same thing.

What Deathrite Does for this Deck

Deathrite seems like a clunky, situational mana dude at first, until you consider where Elves fits into the metagame.

Traditionally, Elves toughest matchups have been the unfair decks. This means the majority of the sideboard slots needed to be dedicated to combo in order to stand a chance against Reanimator, Storm, Show and Tell, and so on. When UW Miracles became a deck, that left Elves without any sideboard space to tackle the new menace, and they became a worse and worse choice as [card]Terminus[/card] and [card]Counterbalance[/card] became more popular.

Now, we have a mana Elf that also doubles as main deck graveyard hate, allowing us to devote more sideboard cards to other matchups. Against the current crop of Miracles decks, [card]Luminarch Ascension[/card] seems like the perfect sort of trump, though it requires at least three slots to be seen reliably. When we had to fit [card]Faerie Macabre[/card]s in the board, this just wasn’t possible.

The UW matchup rarely involves successfully comboing out, and more games are won by getting in a few points of damage at a time. In that sort of situation, which comes up fairly often with this deck, Deathrite’s ability to ping can steal games.

I’ve seen strong Elf players run [card]Thoughtseize[/card], and I wonder if a more black-based list would be better for the mana. Currently, the only way to get multiple black sources (and thus multiple pings when combined with [card]Wirewood Symbiote[/card]) is through another Deathrite or [card]Birchlore Rangers[/card], and maybe that’s fine. The primary concern, after all, is mana generation.

The Next Step

As I mentioned earlier, these are innovations, but ones built on the past. Whenever we are given a new tool, there is the potential for unheard of archetypes to be flushed from the shadows. How do you see Deathrite being used? If you’ve already been using him, please share your lists in the comments.

Caleb Durward
@CalebDMTG

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