Chasing Victory: Wisdom about Legacy


On the flight home from Kyoto, I started brewing some new Legacy lists in preparation for Grand Prix Chicago. Josh Utter-Leyton brought up the fact that there wasn’t really a deck in Legacy where drawing cards equaled a game win, which was kind of sad. These are the types of decks that I prefer, rather than the ones that continually throw threats at your opponent and hope it’s good enough.

Very old Extended with dual lands was my favorite format, and occasionally I get to look back on decks from that era for inspiration. Way back in the day, Adrian Sullivan and John Shuler designed a deck for an Extended Pro Tour in New Orleans featuring Holistic Wisdom. With Intuition, you could tutor for any card you want or simply just reuse Accumulated Knowledge for three over and over again.

That sounded good enough for Legacy and was exactly what I was looking for. Thankfully, Brian Kowal was on my flight from Japan and together we brewed up some Wisdom decks, some Loam decks, and various other strategies. These all needed to be tested, which I did in the week leading up to the GP. Eventually, I settled on this list:

Wisdom Control

The deck uses Counterbalance as a soft lock and spot removal to clean up the stuff the stuff that slips though. With Enlightened Tutor, you can find a silver bullet to completely kold a strategy (Humility against Progenitus for example), or to simply find a casting cost that you need to float on top of your deck to counter their key spell.

Once you are no longer under pressure, you can Intuition for Accumulated Knowledges and find Holistic Wisdom. Eventually, you will kill them with Factories or by casting Lightning Helix over and over.

The sideboard is probably the greatest part of the entire deck. Extirpate is great against other control decks like Landstill, or decks that rely on a single card for their entire strategy. Diabolic Edict is another answer to Progenitus, while Firestorm deals with tribal armies.

Stifle is your ace against graveyard removal. Generally, you will have a Wisdom in play, while they will happily sit on their Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus. You will cast Intuition with six mana in play and they’ll let it resolve, since they don’t care about you putting more cards in your graveyard. At that point, you can recur Stifle at instant speed to counter all of their Crypts.

The second Wisdom is for post board games when you know they’ll be siding in Krosan Grips. If they Grip your first Wisdom, you can play the second one and immediately recur the original. At that point, they won’t ever be able to stop your recursion, barring any counterspells or discard spells.

Tested started out very well. I played the deck against my very capable roommates playing different versions of Threshold, starting with Alix Hatfield’s Natural Order Thresh and eventually against a version that was similar to what I ended up playing in Chicago. The problem with the Threshold decks was their lack of a draw engine. Intuition plus Accumulated Knowledge usually put the Wisdom deck really far ahead. Also, if the Wisdom deck had Top and the other deck didn’t, it would usually win. Conversely, if the Threshold deck had it, it didn’t really matter as the Wisdom deck could usually win the late game regardless.

So far, so good. Ad Nauseam was a solid matchup due to Force of Will, Counterbalance, and Tutor for Canonist. Goblins and other tribal decks were somewhat of a problem. If Humility would stick around, the Wisdom deck would win, but sometimes it was hard to find or protect the four casting cost enchantment.

So why didn’t I play the deck at the Grand Prix? Basically, I chickened out. The deck took a while to win and it was unknown as to how good the deck actually was. Sure, I had played a few games, but not nearly enough to be certain. I didn’t want to risk my GP life on being a couple cards off, so in the end I went with the safe choice: 4c Counterbalance.

Here is the list I played:

I rarely work on a single deck at a time, so even while I was deep in the tank with the Wisdom deck, I was also working on perfecting the Counterbalance deck that I played in Japan. The Intuitions and Fact or Fictions were kind of slow, and I underestimated the power of Mishra’s Factory, a fact that would later come back to haunt me. Dark Confidant just seemed like a more efficient engine than messing around with Intuition and Loam.

I was either going to be running the “fun” deck, where I don’t do anything except kill their permanents and draw cards, or I was going to play the “real” deck, where I play undercosted threats and try to win the game before they do.

On the way to Chicago, LSV called me and asked if I had brought any Werebears with me. “Oh, great,” I thought, “He’s going to play that terrible Natural Order/Thresh deck.” Turns out, he had a little different build in mind, with Noble Hierarchs and Wall of Blossoms. I did have a bunch of Werebears since I build that Threshold deck, so Luis was satisfied and hung up.

I showed up to the tournament site late Friday night and Luis was nowhere to be found. When I called him, it was pretty clear that he was asleep, so I had to wait until the morning to find out what conclusions he came to. I played some games against Clayton Mooney and his Landstill deck with my Wisdom deck, and was getting crushed by his Planeswalkers. It just didn’t seem like I would be able to stand up to a real control deck. Then again, the Bob and Goyf deck didn’t really have a good shot against them either. Regardless, the match confirmed what I had feared: The Wisdom deck just wasn’t right for this tournament. Given some time and practice, maybe I’ll bust it out in the future, but not until I feel like the deck is actually great, and not just good.

LSV and I saw each other in the morning and immediately handed the other person our written decklists. We had build the same deck give or take ten cards. I had Wastelands and a few extra lands, as I wanted to kill Factories, be able to capitalize on mana screwed opponents, or just punish people for their greedy mana bases and get an extra turn or two with my Goyf or Confidant in play. Wasteland is also great at keeping Daze live.

Luis had many of the same ideas, although he went with Ponder instead of Wasteland, Vedalken Shackles, and Trygon Predators. At the time, I didn’t really have any three drops in my list, as there weren’t any I really wanted to play. Shackles didn’t seem all that good, but during the tournament, it by far outlived any expectations I had. I guess that’s the good thing about always being negative, you are never really disappointed since you already assume the worst.
Trygon Predator was pretty crappy, even if it did kill some Counterbalances. If I wanted something to be a straight up Disenchant, I should have played Krosan Grip, as the body on Predator wasn’t very relevant. It was a blue card, but that didn’t matter all that much.

Wasteland was ok. I never got to Stone Rain them into oblivion, but my Dazes were almost always hard counterspells. Mishra’s Factory would have been much better and it wouldn’t have even been close.

The sideboard was pretty standard. Plagues for the tribal decks, Blasts for Goblins and Burn, Grips for Counterbalances, and Edicts for Goyfs and Progenitus. Luis had Perish instead, but I believe Edict to be superior, as you really don’t want to get into a situation where you have to kill your own Goyf. Very rarely is Perish going to be a two for one in your favor.

Thoughtseize was the general catchall. Sometimes I would bring it in for the mirror, but mainly it was there for expensive spells that you have trouble Counterbalancing like Natural Order and Ad Nauseam.

The tournament started out well. I was 6-0 before falling in my feature match to RGU Canadian Threshold. My opponent played very well, but in game one, he won the die roll, played a bunch of cheap guys and had Force, Daze, Force to protect them.

Second game went as planned as a midgame Bob drew me a bunch of cards, while the last game was very sad. I stabilized, drew a couple cards off Confidant before he died, and still even had Top in play. However, my opponent wasn’t going down without a fight. He drew four lands and all spells, while my Top wasn’t really showing me much.

I finally found a Goyf, which resolved, and I thought I had won the game. My top cards were all blanks, so I activated Top and fetched in response in case my opponent had an Ancient Grudge or some such, to ensure that I would get to see the fresh top three cards. He had a Submerge, and I immediately regretted fetching. My opponent’s deck had a very difficult time dealing with Tarmogoyf, and I had a Swords and Sower in my hand to deal with his Goyfs, so he was basically drawing dead. Instead, I gave him that chance to win. I tried to switch Top with Goyf, but he Stifled that, and my next three cards were also garbage.

After that, he found a Mongoose, and I had to play out my Sower to chump block. Eventually, the Goose got me as I failed to see a relevant card turn after turn. I feel like I should note that I was attempting to play around Price of Progress the entire time, as I knew some Canadian Threshold lists ran those.

I won out after that and was very pleased to know that LSV, Wrapter, Ocho, PV, and Nassif all made day two playing basically the same deck. I won my first round of day two against the actual mirror against a Nick Becvar, who I had given the decklist to. First game, he assembled Counterbalance and Top, but he couldn’t stop my Shackles and that was good enough to win the game.

The “Threshold” mirrors are all about threats and answers post board, as both players have access to stuff like Swords and Krosan Grips. Due to this, and the fact that there isn’t anything you can’t Disenchant or Plow, Force of Will becomes less important. I sided out two of those and the Dazes, because the matchup is all about attrition post board, and the games go late. Due to my opponent’s semi dead Forces and Dazes, I won game two, eventually Sowering every Dark Confidant he played.

In the next round, I lost in another feature match. My opponent was playing a Threshold-like deck with Wild Nacatl, Kird Ape, and Ranger of Eos. I thought I would be favored as long as I could protect a Tarmogoyf, and I probably would have been, but that’s not the way the games played out. He would get in some early damage and just when I thought I had stabilized, he would Ponder or Brainstorm into more gas and overrun me.

In the second game, I definitely didn’t play as well as I could have, and deserved the loss.

After that, I lost matches to UB Ad Nauseam and mono red Goblins. My Ad Nauseam was Jaime Park and I was very impressed with his play. I won game one when I didn’t expect to, and won game two when I thought I was winning. Game three I mulliganned to five but had a turn two Counterbalance. He managed to use all of his cards to Wipe Away the Counterbalance, and have enough mana to play around Daze. He had to stop drawing with Ad Nauseam very early since he got kind of unlucky on some flips, but he had enough to storm me out for exactly my life total.

Also of note was that for game two, I kept in some Swords to Plowshares, because I knew most lists had Confidants in their sideboards for the control matchups. For game three, after he went off and I saw a lot of his cards, none of which were Bobs, I sided the Plows back out for Blue Elemental Blasts, because at least they pitch to Force of Will.

The Goblin matchup is pretty bad, and game two I couldn’t find any Engineered Plagues fast enough.

All of my wins felt very easy, like I deserved them due to how good my matchup was, and the majority of my losses stung deep. If only I had prepared against a more aggressive Threshold deck, I would have realized that Mishra’s Factory is desperately needed. Also, Dark Confidant wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be.

After Remi Fortier won Pro Tour Valencia with Counterbalance, the deck improved by dropping black and Dark Confidant, and just becoming a Tarmogoyf control deck called NLU. I think that might be the way for the deck to go, especially after Andy Probasco took that deck all the way to finals of GP Chicago.

The black cards in the sideboard are great, but I can probably live without them. Pyroclasm can replace Engineered Plague easily enough. Progenitus didn’t have a very good showing at the Grand Prix, so the hype surrounding those decks will most likely die down. At that point, the Edicts are no longer necessary, especially if I revert to the older list with Trinket Mage for Engineered Explosives. That should give you enough removal.

This is what I should have played:

Spell Snare is definitely something to consider, although Counterspell seems more powerful against the open format that is Legacy. I still don’t think there is any need for Dredge hate, as it isn’t very popular and doesn’t win a whole lot. In addition, I’ve found that fighting Dredge in Legacy isn’t quite as hard as in Extended, as Daze, Force of Will, and Swords to Plowshares are all hurdles for them to overcome. Even if you don’t have hate, if you have those cards, you have a shot.

Some tips and tricks with Counterbalance to consider:

1) If you have Counterbalance or Sensei’s Divining Top in play, you should keep your fetchlands uncracked if at all possible. If you blind Counterbalance something and see a blank on top, you will be able to get rid of the chaff on top. If you have two Counterbalances, you have two chances to blind hit. If you have a Top in play, you shouldn’t crack a fetchland until you need the mana to cast something, or until your top three cards really suck.

2) If possible, draw into multiple copies of Top rather than excess lands. At least if you find a shuffler, you can cash in that second Top for another great cards instead of having a redundant land in play.

3) Make sure you absolutely remember your top three cards. It is vital to use all of your mana effectively, and not have to continually use Top when you want to Counterbalance their two drop, simply because you forgot what order your cards were in. This will also allow your turns to progress much faster and in turn will conclude with you picking up fewer draws.

4) Somewhat in connection with the earlier tip, try to predict what they are going to play when choosing what casting cost you float on top, especially when dealing with split second spells like Krosan Grip.

5) Try to get into the habit of activated the “look at the top three” part of Top before you crack a fetchland. This way, if they ever cast Ancient Grudge on your Top, forcing you to switch it with your top card, at least you get to look at the top three cards after you shuffle.

6) Similarly, if end of turn you shuffle and activate Top and see something that you would like to cast, like a Thirst for Knowledge, you can stack it like this: Activate the “look at the top three cards,” in response, switch Top with the Thirst for Knowledge, still in response to the “look at the top three,” cast Thirst. Then, after you resolve Thirst, you will be able to see your top three cards, all without your Top in play!

7) Learn your deck and learn how to play fast, so that you use your Tops well and don’t pick up draws.

8) Determine what you can and can’t play around. Think about what’s important and determine whether or not you should play that Confidant or Counterbalance on turn two for example, even if you have a feeling you’re going to be running into a Daze. Consider a situation where you are in the midgame and have Top and Counterbalance in play with a two drop on top and you opponent plays a three drop. Now, do you crack some fetchlands searching for a three drop to counter their spell? How important is it that you counter their three drop? Does potentially losing your ability to blank their two drops outweigh how important their three drop is or vice versa? Do the math on how many outs you have, how much it’s worth it to you to stop their spell, and how likely you are to resume the soft lock on their two drops, if it even matters.

Above all, know your deck inside and out so that you can make these decisions quickly.

And that more or less concludes my foray into the Eternal World, at least for now. Hopefully, it won’t be long before I’m casting Force of Wills again.


Bonus Story Time from Japan

While waiting in between rounds during the Kyoto Vintage tournament, I was sitting at a table with US National Champion Michael Jacob and forgotten professional Gadiel Szleifer. MJ and I started chatting about various console RPGs and Gadiel, while not in the least bit interested, managed to stay seated at the table for well over ten minutes. It was truly a testament to his level of boredom. Thankfully, he was rewarded with this display:

A young Japanese male was leaning over a table, rail birding a game in progress. He was dressed like a punk rocker in a tight shirt that said “YOU MUST LEARN” on the back, pants sagged halfway down his butt, and his boxers in plain view.

This male then reached under his boxers and started furiously scratching his nether regions. I started laughing at this guy’s shameless display and Gadiel managed to catch the end of it. MJ was facing the opposite direction and couldn’t see what was going on, nor did he really want to, but I explained it to him anyway.

Once I started telling the story, MJ begged me to stop, but I absolutely had to finish telling him. At that point, as if the story wasn’t good enough already, the kid ran that same hand through his glorious Japanese head of hair, seemingly unaware of where his hand had just been.

2 thoughts on “Chasing Victory: Wisdom about Legacy”

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top