Shardless Agent used to be among the top dogs in Legacy. The ability to generate a near endless amount of two-for-ones while generating board presence was an excellent way to grind down most opponents. However, with the banning of Deathrite Shaman and subsequent printing of cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Shardless strategies were consigned to the fringes of the format. The type of value the card, and the deck, generated was no longer viable in a world of threats that completely dominated the game.
With Kaldheim’s release though came Valki, God of Lies and, importantly, he brought along Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor, which breathed new life into the archetype. With the ability to cascade a Shardless Agent into Valki and cast Tibalt, the deck has an extremely potent, board-dominating plan to work towards. It’s exciting to see Shardless Agent have success again so today I want to take a look at the archetype that some people have been working on.
The list I’ll focus on today top 16’d the Legacy Challenge in the hands of Magic Online user Samu_27. The same player top 8’d the other Challenge this weekend with a different version of the deck that eschewed the snow cards for more old school Sultai cards. While Arcum’s Astrolabe is still around i’m inclined to lean towards those versions of the deck as being the most effective. This archetype is still being refined, though, and there are certainly pros and cons to both approaches. Either way, let’s take a look at the deck list and see how the deck functions.
Legacy Shardless Valki by Samu_27
Shardless Sultai is as midrange as decks come in Legacy. The game plan is to combine efficient removal with threats that generate two-for-one advantage to pull ahead of your opponent.
Shardless Agent is the key fixture of this deck and using it to cascade into Valki, God of Lies (which, as a quirk of the rules, will allow you to cast the back half, Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor) will generate an extremely potent board presence as early as turn three. Beyond Tibalt, running Ancestral Vision opens up the option of turning Shardless Agent into a draw three, which will generally provide enough value to make opponents unable to keep up. Since this is a Sultai deck in the modern era, you have access to Oko and Uro, which have as much of a chance of winning the game here as anywhere else.
This is the primary engine of the deck and it packs a serious punch. Relative to many cards printed lately, Shardless doesn’t have quite the same impact it used to. However, it’s still a relatively effective way to generate some incremental advantage and has a lot of tactical versatility midgame. It can be cast on turn three just to try to get a card off of it. On the other hand, you can try to set it up with cantrips and really pull off a one-two punch of card advantage and board presence.
On the other hand, Valki is the new lifeblood of this deck. Part of the issue that Shardless decks have had recently is that the value they generate is consistent, but it’s not potent enough to keep up with other decks. Tibalt provides an essential, new angle to the archetype and helps the deck achieve an unbeatable board state very quickly.
Furthermore, part of the power of a two-for-one is that you start to generate a resource advantage over your opponent. In general, that translates to hitting more land drops over the course of a game. In a game that goes long, it isn’t unreasonable to cast Tibalt for seven mana, which is a lot of utility for one card to have. The front side of the card isn’t irrelevant either, and casting a Valki on turn two could provide a somewhat meaningful amount of disruption.
Ancestral Vision is extremely powerful when combined with Shardless Agent. However, when you draw it naturally, it’s extremely slow and clunky. This used to be the key engine piece of the Shardless Sultai archetype but these days, it functions more as an additional tool in the arsenal, so two copies makes a lot of sense. With the printing of Force of Negation, excess copies of Ancestral Vision have gotten better since they can be pitched more easily.
Beyond being staples of every blue deck, these are the workhorses of this archetype. Brainstorm is especially crucial as it allows you to set up all of the synergies with Shardless Agent. Funnily enough, Ponder didn’t used to see play in this archetype. Part of that is that deck building philosophy has changed overall and part of it is that it doesn’t impact the game very highly. However, it sets up really smooth curves with Shardless Agent and it’s still one of the best cards in Legacy.
Astrolabe is the best benefit of playing a snow mana base and it pulls a little bit of extra weight here by providing this deck with free access to red mana for Tibalt. I don’t know if Astrolabe is the best direction to go, but it has a tendency to make mana base concerns non-existent, so I’m inclined to think that’s a good direction for this deck to go.
This is the best disruption you get access to in a Shardless deck. You can’t really run cheap countermagic because Shardless might cascade into it, which would be a disaster. Of course, every blue deck runs this suite of cards so it’s not novel by any means, but it’s still worth noting that the mana cost on these counters is crucial to the archetype.
This is a well-rounded removal suite, which is pretty much required of midrange decks in the modern era. In general, cards like Decay and Trophy are better in a deck like Shardless Sultai. If you fire off a blind Shardless Agent on turn three, it’s better if your removal is more diverse so it’s less likely to miss. However, killing creatures is crucially important in current Legacy so the one mana removal gets a lot better. Since this deck is playing a snow mana base, Dead of Winter becomes the Wrath of choice and it has proven to be extremely effective.
What’s a blue/green deck without these cards? They provide all of the same power and versatility boosts here that they do in every other blue midrange archetype. I have said a lot about them in the past, and most of that is still true. These are both a little bit more potent on turn three than Shardless if you haven’t set up a Shardless, so adding that element to the deck is kind of nice. Shardless Sultai has always been known for dominating games on the basis of card advantage and Oko/Uro take that to a new level.
The one-two punch of Shardless Agent into Baleful Strix is a classic Legacy play. Since this deck is going the snow route, Ice-Fang Coatl is quite a bit better than Baleful Strix. Flash is a really meaningful ability and even though it occasionally won’t have deathtouch, the upside is definitely there.
Sylvan is just an extremely effective card against any slower deck. This deck can’t really mess around with drawing too many clunky cards, so having a single copy seems like the best place to be.
Most of the mana base is very straightforward for a snow deck and doesn’t really warrant discussion (perhaps outside of the Volcanic Island, but that’s important when you plan on sideboarding in Pyroblast). Karakas might look a bit out of place, but it has become a relatively common inclusion in these snow decks that run Uro. It’s relatively low cost because Astrolabe carries a lot of weight and the upside of functioning as an engine with Uro (or even Valki) is very high. It also makes opposing Uros stick around less often, and can occasionally snipe a Marit Lage or Emrakul.
Some additional removal in the sideboard really helps against Delver decks. While it might be more awkward at times, I really like the inclusion of Bloodchief’s Thirst here and wonder if two copies in the board might be better. Answering planeswalkers is important these days, so having that option seems nice.
Force of Negation is actually a pretty huge get for this archetype, mostly for the reasons I discussed previously. In the past, if you wanted (or even needed) extra countermagic, you needed to run cards like Flusterstorm which ran a huge risk with Shardless Agent. Now, you can just fill your sideboard with as many Force of Negations as you see fit.
Carpet has proven itself to be a superb card against Delver decks and that’s no different here. It really blanks a few elements of their deck and lets this deck easily generate enough mana to resolve its spells. In Shardless Sultai specifically, it has some extra potency as the mana bump can help you cast Tibalt more easily.
A combo hate card that you can cascade into is much appreciated in this archetype. Historically, Shardless decks struggled against combo decks. This version is especially weak to combo, as it’s eschewing discard effects in favor of more powerful, grindy tools. Damping Sphere goes a long way against decks like Storm (and even against Cloudpost decks) so I rather like seeing it here.
Again, hate cards you can cascade into have a distinct advantage in this deck . Nihil Spellbomb fills multiple roles, being good against the unfair graveyard decks but also providing some additional value against Uro decks.
Surgical doesn’t quite fit the bill when it comes to excellent cards to cascade into (although it’s not bad by any means, but you might not have the optimal target when you hit it) but combo decks in Legacy can be a bit too brutal to rely on a slower card like Nihil Spellbomb.
This is mostly a haymaker against Doomsday and it seems like a good fit here. Having some overlap against Storm and Elves is nice as well and I think the single copy will get a decent amount of mileage.
Plague Engineer has proven its worth in all black decks and it’s excellent here as well. The only downside is that, unlike a card like Golgari Charm or Marsh Casualties, you can’t cascade into it. However, Engineer is far more potent and effective than those cards, so in general I wouldn’t trim from the two copies.
Pyroblast is just about the perfect card for this deck (that previously versions didn’t really get to run). It helps against combo decks by adding some extra disruption if you draw it, which Shardless decks of the past desperately needed. However, if you cascade into it against a fair deck, there’s a real chance that you can snipe an Oko or Delver of Secrets (also you can just draw and hold it). Pyroblast is a very versatile card and definitely a nice element to have in the sideboard here.
Veil isn’t quite as versatile as Pyroblast, but the fact that, at worst, it draws a card when you hit it off of Shardless makes a single copy seem very appealing. Veil continues to be a powerhouse in Legacy and it’ll make life really difficult for any deck relying on discard spells to interact with you.
- In this deck, it’s occasionally correct to fetch before you Brainstorm. This will make it far easier to set up a Shardless Agent.
- Valki has extra text beyond just taking a creature. Occasionally, you can turn it into a Dreadhorde Arcanist or Uro and really start generating value.
- Suspending Ancestral on turn one will be correct a fair amount of time, but if you have the combo (Brainstorm + Shardless) or it’s later than turn one and you just have part of it, it’ll often be correct to hold it.
This is going to be a pretty grindy matchup, but Shardless has a lot of tools that are good here. I’d rather not two-for-one myself with Force of Will if I can avoid it, even though Klothys, God of Destiny is a bit problematic. A lot of removal in the deck lines up pretty well with their threats, but be sure to have an answer lined up for Dreadhorde Arcanist. Shardless into Tibalt will often be lights out, so try to set that up if possible.
Certainly another grindy matchup, these games are going to go long. Shardless into Tibalt is very potent here and will force them to have countermagic or some narrow removal very quickly. If the game goes really long, they’re probably a bit favored but Shardless Agent and Ancestral Vision can definitely let you keep up on value. You might want to keep Assassin’s Trophy in over Force of Will, but I could see that going either way since giving them an extra land can be pretty bad at times.
This is the kind of matchup where I hate leaving Force of Will in, but I’ve been conditioned to fear Cataclysm. It’s probably right to bring out all of them, but I think leaving a single copy in is fine. Death and Taxes can definitely grind on par with a deck like Shardless so I’d prepare for a longer game. I’m recommending that you cut the Sylvan, but it might just be right to cut some Ancestral Visions. Spirit of the Labyrinth can be a pain, so I’m concerned about that.
Doomsday can be extremely difficult for fair blue decks without a clock. Opposition Agent is a pretty important card as it shuts down their ability to combo, but you’re going to have to find it quickly. Otherwise, try to put together as much pressure as you can (casting Valki is probably better than Tibalt, on average) and try to hold on to a few copies of Force of Will.