Legacy Weapon – The Gaff of Dark Ascension

I enjoyed Innistrad a great deal, and it led me to expect an entire block with the same depth of flavor. As with the aggressive Zendikar format, I figured the limited side of things would slow down a bit with the printing of the second set. I assumed that, as with most sets, Dark Ascension would have a few cards powerful or niche enough to see play in legacy. For the most part, I was excited.

That is, until James Aspen, winner of Grand Prix Providence, instant messaged me. As you can tell, he was somewhat distraught.

“Why do they hate [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]?” he asked.
“No clue,” I said.
“I play Oath in Vintage. I’m going to bed.”
“Yeah, sleep it off.”
“I need a drink.”

This was the day that Grafdigger’s Cage was spoiled. For those that don’t know:

Grafdigger’s Cage 1
Creature cards can’t enter the battlefield from graveyards or libraries.
Players can’t cast cards in graveyards or libraries.
“Good thing I have no intention of casting creature spells from any zone in Legacy, that could have gotten real awkward.” -Ari Lax

This is an example of a hate card that’s not quite narrow enough. Examine, if you will, the following hand.

[draft]Green Sun’s Zenith
Green Sun’s Zenith
Cabal Therapy
Recurring Nightmare
Verdant Catacombs[/draft]

This hand has everything! [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] gives ramp and consistency, and [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] disruption. In the late game, [card]Recurring Nightmare[/card] is there to enable an [card]Eternal Witness[/card] or [card]Deranged Hermit[/card] loop.

Now imagine being on the draw against the following board position:

Island, Grafdigger’s Cage.

As you can see, the Cage is more than just a Dredge hoser. A slew of cards like [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card], and [card]Oath of Druids[/card] are bricked. In vintage, non creature Tinker targets might become more popular, which is a good thing. The turn one [card]Blightsteel Colossus[/card] line makes Vintage easier than it should be. At least [card]Time Vault[/card] combo takes two cards and is weak to Ancient Grudge. Yawgmoth’s Will is another vintage card that gets nerfed, but that card has some power to spare.

The problem I have with Grafdigger’s Cage is that its impact against Dredge and Reanimator is larger than just about any other graveyard hate they’ve printed. I’m a big fan of the current crop of playable hosers, particularly the one shots like [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] and [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card]. They’re hard to maindeck, take some timing to play correctly, and can often be won through. Even [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] needs to be mulliganed into, and is hardly game over against Reanimator, which often switches to the [card]Show and Tell[/card] plan post board.

Grafdigger’s Cage is different. Like [card]Yixlid Jailer[/card], the Cage completely locks Dredge out of the game when it comes down. Unlike Jailer, it also hoses Reanimator, and it costs a full mana less. For a deck that tries to win the game by turn two or three, that extra mana means a world of difference. The card, in its encompassing nature, feels like a one mana [card]Null Rod[/card]. And sure, Null Rod hasn’t seen play in a while, but I think it’s more of a metagame condition than because the card isn’t powerful enough. Grafdigger’s Cage could realistically kill Dredge while nuking the playability of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card], and that’s huge.

Even in Standard, I thought [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] was doing a fine job, to the point that I was shaving [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s in some control mirrors. The Spellbomb cantrips for value, and is occasionally good enough to be worth running without a consistent source of black. On the other hand, according to Craig Wescoe’s numbers a full forty five percent of recent Daily winning decks ran [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], implying some dominance, and in that light nerfing the card isn’t the worst idea ever. Also, we haven’t seen the entire block yet, and without that context we can’t know how important the Cage might be in relation to the newer formats.

To appease the list-hungry masses, I drummed up a few decks that could reasonably maindeck the new hoser. The first is a fresh take on UW:

[deck]1 Arid Mesa
4 Plains
7 Island
4 Tundra
4 Flooded Strand
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Stoneforge Mystic
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Spell Snare
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Enlightened Tutor
1 Back to Basics
2 Thopter Foundry
1 Sword of the Meek
4 Brainstorm
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Humility
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Chrome Mox
1 Batterskull
1 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Force of Will
1 Vendilion Clique
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Path to Exile
1 Pithing Needle
1 Oblivion Ring
3 Counterbalance
2 Back to Basics
2 Wrath of God
1 Moat
1 Force of Will[/deck]

While the Enlightened Tutor style of UW has fallen out of favor, it has a number of features that allow it to maindeck an artifact hate card. For starters, the deck already runs a tutor package with a number of one-ofs to hose specific archetypes. If the deck draws the wrong card, it features a pair of [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card]s and eight [card]Brainstorm[/card] effects to filter it away. Meanwhile, Grafdigger’s Cage does answer some problems for the deck. Often, stopping the opponent from tutoring up [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] is better than burning [card]Pithing Needle[/card] on the card, since it strands the opponent’s [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] in hand, keeping pressure off the board. While most Bant-type decks were good matchups anyway, having a dedicated graveyard hate card also [card]Meddling Mage[/card] a relevant card out of opposing green decks isn’t a bad thing.

This build borrows from the strengths of less archaic UW archetypes. Tutoring up [card]Batterskull[/card] with [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card], flashing back [card]Brainstorm[/card], [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card], and [card]Spell Snare[/card] with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], and protecting a [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] behind a wall of disruption and countermagic are all strong lines shared with other decks. There is a nonbo present in the Grafdigger’s Cage and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], but this deck, with only one Cage as a bullet and a measly pair of Snapcasters, can get away with it. One pitches to [card]Force of Will[/card] and [card]Chrome Mox[/card], the other is an efficient discard for [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card], and they both have the potential to be game-ending, making the modicum of risk well worth it. Note that a typical, more dedicated to Snapcaster build of UW will care about the nonbo more, which rules out some lists I was considering with [card]Trinket Mage[/card] packages.

Another deck that has profitably maindecked hate cards, specifically cheap artifacts, is Affinity, and I’ve seen [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card], [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], [card]Pithing Needle[/card], and [card]Phyrexian Revoker[/card] all take up slots. When I’m playing the deck, my main concern is [card]Pernicious Deed[/card], but I’m also worried about [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] decks that run multiple [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card]s and [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card], which the Cage could help against. Denying the UW opponent Snapcaster plus [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] is relevant, too. Let’s look at Owen’s list from the Charlotte Open:

[deck]4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Vault of Whispers
2 Ancient Tomb
1 Underground Sea
4 Mox Opal
4 Cranial Plating
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Etched Champion
4 Frogmite
4 Master of Etherium
4 Memnite
3 Myr Enforcer
4 Signal Pest
2 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
4 Thoughtcast[/deck]

Of these cards, [card]Mox Opal[/card], [card]Master of Etherium[/card], and [card]Myr Enforcer[/card] are the prime candidates for trimming. [card]Etched Champion[/card] is locked into the 75 as a four of, but some numbers could be moved to the board in metagames with less [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. I’d start with -1 [card]Master of Etherium[/card], -1 [card]Myr Enforcer[/card], +2 Grafdigger’s Cage.

4 [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card]
1 [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card]
2 [card]Spellskite[/card]
2 [card]Dismember[/card]
3 [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card]
1 [card]Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas[/card]
2 [card]Perish[/card]

After maindecking a pair of graveyard hate cards, we no longer have to board five, and we can use the space to shore up our matchup against [card]Pernicious Deed[/card] decks. Perhaps -4 [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], -1 [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card], +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +2 [card]Pithing Needle[/card], +1 [card]Phyrexian Revoker[/card], +1 [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card].

Some decks bring in [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]. Too bad Cage is bad against most of those archetypes, like Zoo, or we could leave it in and force the opponent to target it first.

As I’m writing this, there’s a mere fifty-nine cards spoiled. Fortunately for you, dear readers, there’s enough material there to get me off Grafdigger’s Cage.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 1W
Legendary Creature – Human Soldier
First Strike
Noncreature spells cost 1 more to cast.

This guy is amazing. I like the idea of dropping him turn one off of a [card]Chrome Mox[/card], then following him up with a [card]Glowrider[/card], some [card]Wasteland[/card]s, and an [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card]. Vintage playable, and he should have a big role in modern, but in legacy we’ll have to wait and see if he fits into the existing Maverick mold. Death and Taxes has more of a spot for him, but it’s also less of a deck.

If you’re looking for a modern shell to put him in, you could try a build of the GW deck I talked about last week.

Hellvault 3
Legendary Artifact
1, tap: Exile target creature you control.
7, tap: Exile target creature you don’t control.
When Helvault is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, return all cards exiled with it to the battlefield under their owners’ control.

I considered this card for MUD, but it’s worse than both [card]Karn Liberated[/card] and [card]Staff of Domination[/card]. In a Smokestack and Metalworker list, it might be better than [card]Spine of Ish Sah[/card], which occasionally turns up as a one-of.

This card is a bona fide EDH playable.

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad 2WB
Planeswalker – Sorin
+1: Put a 1/1 black Vampire creature token with lifelink onto the battlefield.
-2: You get an emblem with “Creatures you control get +1/+0.”
-6: Destroy up to 3 target creatures and/or other planeswalkers. Return each card put into a graveyard this way to the battlefield under your control.

This guy looks to have a huge impact on legacy, kind of like a cross between [card]Ajani Goldmane[/card] and [card]Venser, the Soujorner[/card]. Oh wait, did I say huge? I meant marginal.

Many of those dismissing new Sorin have been comparing him straight up with Elspeth, which is a mistake. After all, Elspeth is one of the best planeswalkers of all time. If we’re wondering if the card will see fringe play, it shouldn’t be compared with [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card], but rather with [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card], [card]Jace Beleren[/card], original Garruk, pappa Garruk, and others that’ve also seen fringe play. I still say new Sorin comes up lacking, but I can understand why some of my friends think it’ll go well in a [card]Bitterblossom[/card] deck. There, the combination of Elspeth and Ajani Goldmane’s abilities could prove more useful and synergistic than other options.

Many have commended the ultimate but, while sweet, I can see it being dead a large portion of the time. Someone, I can’t remember who, brought up the point that if the opponent has sweet creatures to steal, why haven’t they been attacking Sorin? On the flip side, if they aren’t applying pressure, allowing Sorin to ultimate, they probably don’t have a good target for it.

My buddy Joe Bernal, local loudmouth, legacy specialist, and BW enthusiast, likes the cut of Sorin’s jib. While he agrees the card is not a strong card in legacy, he does think the unique combination of abilities should help the card fill a niche in some Rock-like archetypes.

Faithless Looting R
Draw two cards, then discard two cards.
Flashback 2R

Much has been said about this one already, so I won’t go into detail. Essentially, it should revolutionize the way Dredge decks operate. Some have suggested slapping it into the [card]Brain Freeze[/card] style [card]Past in Flames[/card] deck I wrote about a while ago, which I find tempting where [card]Careful Study[/card] wasn’t. Not only is Faithless Looting a much better card, but it also burns red mana, not blue, which is relevant with all of the red rituals.

Maybe this was the enabler a legacy Pyromancer’s Ascension deck was missing, but I doubt it.

Thought Scour U
Target player puts the top two cards of his library into his graveyard.
Draw a card.

[card]Mental Note[/card] has seen a small resurgence this past season as [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] has picked up steam. This card is marginally better, as you can turn it on your opponent in a losing game to gain information. It also messes with [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] tricks, [card]Vampiric Tutor[/card] effects, [card]Doomsday[/card] piles, and [card]Academy Ruins[/card]. In combination with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s, I could see it finishing some grindy control mirrors by milling the opponent out. Perhaps alongside a [card]Cunning Wish[/card]ed [card]Brain Freeze[/card]?

Finally, we have a Dark Ritual-friendly card after my own (black) heart:

Geralf’s Messenger BBB
Creature – Zombie
Geralf’s Messenger enters the battlefield tapped.
When Geralf’s Messenger enters the battlefield, target opponent loses two life.
Undying (When this creature dies, if it had no +1+1 counters on it, return it to the battlefield with a +1+1 counter on it.)

I don’t know if this guy is good enough. If he makes the cut, it’s going to be because he does what a deck needs him to do rather than because of his power level. Suicide Black comes to mind, where he can apply early pressure, draw plow effects away from [card]Dark Confidant[/card] and [card]Phyrexian Obliterator[/card], show some resiliency, and work well with [card]Cabal Therapy[/card]. In fact, if you flash back Therapy the turn he comes into play you’re actually paying triple black for a 4/3, a [card]Fireblast[/card] to the dome, and a painless [card]Thoughtseize[/card], which is big game. Kitchen Stinks is right.

That’s all for now. Join me next week as I talk about the Hippo Blade deck (yes, the MarthaJones creation) I day twoed GP Orlando with, and what changes I’m considering if I take the deck to Honolulu.

Caleb Durward
[email protected]


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