Why We Love Legacy: Peter Tragos on White Eldrazi

Peter Tragos   September 14, 2017   Comments Off on Why We Love Legacy: Peter Tragos on White Eldrazi

The first game of Legacy I ever played was round 1 of the Legacy Championship at GenCon in 2010.

Having borrowed a sweet Temur CounterTop/Natural Order deck from my friend Mike Hajduk, I embarked on a journey that would change my Magic life forever. The first time I cast Brainstorm and Force of Will I knew there was no going back; this was the kind of Magic that I wanted to be playing.

I finished 6-1-1 in that event, missing top 8 on tiebreakers and finishing in 10th place out of 197 players. While my goal is always to make the elimination rounds, I was very happy with myself to finish so well in a format I had never played before, and I was lucky enough to open both a Mana Drain and a Karakas in the one Italian Legends pack that was part of my prize. Fast-forward nearly a year, and I’m buying a plane ticket to play in my first Grand Prix ever — GP Providence 2011, which was Legacy. While that event didn’t go as well as the first one, it did help solidify Legacy as my format of choice.

While I have played many various decks over the years, the common factor between them all was Brainstorm. Every deck, be it Stoneblade, Delver, Shardless Sultai, or Storm, has been a Brainstorm deck. I never left home without the best card in the format. That all changed a little short of two years ago, when I was exposed to the new truth: Chalice of the Void. There is no need to outplay your opponents if your opponents can’t make plays to begin with.

According to MTGGoldfish, of the top 10 played cards in Legacy, eight of them cost one mana, so a Chalice on one is strangling to the majority of the decks commonly played. While there are a few different Chalice strategies floating around these days, the one that I have made my deck of choice is a little less mainstream.

The Deck

Usually referred to as Thalia Stompy or White Eldrazi, this deck aims to combine the disruptive elements of Chalice of the Void and both Thalias with the power and fast clock of Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher.

White Eldrazi, by Peter Tragos

While I had a great finish with the deck last weekend in the September Championship Trial, that second-place finish was actually a step back from the last two times I’ve played this deck in CTs, as I won both the October 2016 and March 2017 Championship Trials with this deck. While plan A is to stop the opponent from being able to make meaningful plays long enough to smash their face off, some of the card choices here allow us to have a successful midrange plan.

Untouchables

If you look at all three decklists of mine you can see there are some stark differences, but the same core lies within them all.

4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Eldrazi Displacer
4 Thought-Knot Seer
3 Reality Smasher
4 Chalice of the Void
3 Mox Diamond
4 Ancient Tomb
4 Eldrazi Temple
3 City of Traitors

Having tried many different configurations of this deck, I would not play without these 33 cards.

First, Chalice of the Void. This is the reason we are playing this deck. If we didn’t want to play Chalice of the Void we could just be playing Death and Taxes, a solidly Tier 1 deck. If played on turn 1, Chalice will lead to more free wins than anything else we could play. A vast majority of the time we are casting this with x=1, as we have no one-mana cards and a large percentage of the most played cards in the format are one mana. Whether it’s stopping Deathrite Shaman or Dark Ritual, a Chalice on one is usually going to be bad news bears for your opponent. A few Chalices will land on x=2 or x=0, but we are going to be locking out one-mana cards more often than not.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a staple in Death and Taxes and we want it here for the same reasons. Our plan is to make it difficult or impossible for the opponent to operate in the early game and no creature does that better than Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Unlike Death and Taxes, we can drop her on turn 1.

Eldrazi Displacer is a fantastic tool that we gain over a traditional colorless Eldrazi deck thanks to our choice to play white. Your opponent made a 20/20 flyer? Displace it. Your opponent reanimated a Griselbrand and wants to attack? Displace it. Your opponent plays a Tarmogoyf and it’s just too big to attack through? Displace it. You have Thought-Knot Seer? Displace it. You have a Stoneforge Mystic? Displace it. You have a Containment Priest and your opponent has some creatures in play? Displace them. Forever. Displacer does a lot of neat things for us while being able to utilize the fast mana from Eldrazi Temple both to cast and to activate.

Thought-Knot Seer is the biggest reason that Eldrazi Stompy replaced MUD as the colorless deck of choice in Legacy. Due to the amount of “Sol lands” at our disposal, we can cast this on the second turn without much trouble. The Thoughtseize-esque ability attached to a 4/4 body is usually devastating when played as early as we can play it. As mentioned before, TKS plays well with Eldrazi Displacer, as we can displace our own Seer during our opponent’s draw step and stack the two triggers to see both the card they drew for the turn and the card they drew for Thought-Knot Seer leaving play, giving us the option of taking the best card with perfect information.

Reality Smasher smashes realities harder and faster than anyone ever smashed realities before it. Being a 5/5 trampling haster as early as turn two (thanks Mox Diamond!) isn’t enough, as it shrugs off all targeted removal unless your opponents 2-for-1 themselves. At the end of the day, all it does is attack and under rare circumstances block, so it’s not an auto 4-of. I wouldn’t play less than three, with the fourth being a possible flex slot.

This deck only functions due to the fast mana available to us. Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors and Eldrazi Temple allow us to play cards much sooner than they were designed to be played. While there are a few different utility lands we can take advantage of in this deck, these Sol lands are mandatory, as we aren’t going to be able to compete if we are casting our spells fairly.

Mox Diamond is the glue that holds the mana base together. While we have 11 Sol lands in our deck, only seven of them can cast Chalice of the Void on turn 1, and three of them are usually very bad to play on turn 1. Mox Diamond not only gives more hands that can cast a turn 1 Chalice, but also allows us to play a white spell on turn 1, be it a Thalia, an Eldrazi Displacer or a critical sideboard card like Rest in Peace.

The Flex Spots

4 Stoneforge Mystic
3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
2 Palace Jailer
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Batterskull
1 Lotus Petal

Stoneforge Mystic is a card that I generally do not like in this deck. It feels slow and cumbersome in a deck that doesn’t want to go long. Stoneforge is a great card, but it is like Floyd Mayweather playing for the long game while the rest of the deck is Conor McGregor playing for the quick knock out. Why did I play four Stoneforge Mystics? The answer is the Commander 2013-exclusive pain in the rear, True-Name Nemesis.

I had planned on playing as many as four Walking Ballista in the maindeck for this event, as the card that was giving me the most problems recently was Baleful Strix. While large Tarmogoyfs and Gurmag Anglers are easily displaced, it does not feel great to displace a Baleful Strix. Unless a single uncontested attack is going to put the game away, it usually does not end well to blink the best Elvish Visionary ever printed. While Walking Ballista was a great answer for Baleful Strix, it did nothing to stop True-Name Nemesis, which has been on the rise in the Chicagoland area. After getting stomped in testing over and over by TNN, enter Stoneforge Mystic and our last, best hope, Sword of Fire and Ice.

The equipment package I ran is the same one that Death and Taxes typically runs. Batterskull and Umezawa’s Jitte are the two best equipments that aren’t currently banned. Sword of Fire and Ice allows us to sidestep that stupid Merfolk Rogue and its mechanical bird friend too, as both are blue. While the protection from blue is the reason we want Sword, its abilities are exceptional, as extra damage and extra cards are both things we are happy to have. The protection from Red isn’t irrelevant either, as Young Pyromancer can sometimes pump out more chump blockers than we can get through. Having both Jitte and SoFaI means we can usually afford to have one blown up by a Shatter effect and still be fine.

Thalia, Heretic Cathar was very close to being put in the “untouchables” section but I think there is an expected meta where we leave three-mana Thalia on the bench. I’m not sure what that meta would be, but it’s reasonable to think it exists. While not as widely played as the Guardian of Thraben, the Heretic Cathar can sometimes be more back-breaking, especially when cast on turn 1.

Many of the top decks in the format operate with a fetch-dual mana base, and against that Heretic Cathar is doubly punishing. Any fetch land the opponent plays will come into play tapped, delaying its activation for a turn. If the opponent wants to fetch a dual land that will also come into play tapped, setting the opponent back on mana a second time. This can make decks like Delver grind to a halt, as they usually play only a couple basics at most, but also want to use most or all of their mana every turn casting Brainstorms, Ponders, and whatever interactive spells they may have. Not having to worry about blockers until the turn after they are played also leads to you being able to build to an unbeatable board state more often and a turn sooner. The two Thalias play very well together, as turning off your opponent’s lands the turn they play them while also taxing their spells is a punishing combination.

Palace Jailer is a recent addition for me, but it’s been nothing but impressive. In previous versions of this deck I’ve played a pair of Smuggler’s Copter to help filter our draws while providing an evasive beater, but Palace Jailer does the job better. The Fiend Hunter effect allows us to keep our foot on the gas pedal, not having to worry about any potential blocker that will slow us down. Unlike Fiend Hunter, the creature does not come back if they remove the Palace Jailer; it only comes back if we stop being the Monarch. As long as we are the aggressor, as we normally are, the opponent will not be able to attack us to take the crown from us. Palace Jailer is still good when our opponent does not have creatures in play, as it still provides us with a personal end of turn Howling Mine with no threat of losing it to the opponent. Palace Jailer also plays well with Eldrazi Displacer, as we can displace our Jailer and lock up multiple creatures in the royal dungeon.

The one-of Lotus Petal is the stand-in for the fourth Mox Diamond. We really want a turn 1 Mox Diamond, but Mox Diamond has a very real cost, so it is normally not good in multiples. Lotus Petal lets us have our explosive turn 1 more often but helps mitigate awkward hands with multiple Diamonds and no lands to discard to them.

The Mana Base

3 Karakas
4 Cavern of Souls
7 Plains

As previously mentioned, the Sol lands are integral as the engine of the deck.

In a world where people are making legendary 20/20 tokens, reanimating Griselbrand, or Show and Telling Emrakul, Karakas is powerful. Even if we weren’t a white deck we would want some number of Karakas, as it’s a generally free way to answer some otherwise difficult-to-answer threats. The fact that Karakas is legendary is less problematic to us because we are a Mox Diamond deck, so we can discard superfluous copies of Karakas.

Cavern of Souls is our answer to Force of Will. A Force of WIll on our first threat can give our opponent the time they need to stabilize and start winning the game, and we don’t want that to happen. With the exception of Stoneforge Mystic, every creature in the deck is either an Eldrazi or a Human, so name one of those and jam creatures without fear. We can utilize the colorless mana of Cavern as well to activate Displacer or cast Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher, so there is little downside to playing the full set.

Zero Wasteland. Most people that play this deck or similar decks will include some number of Wasteland, as you have the room for more utility lands and Wasteland is a powerful way to answer problematic cards like Dark Depths or to keep your opponent tied down with the Thalia tax. My decision to not play Wasteland is purely a product of my own play style and experience with this deck.

I am currently 21-3 in matches played with this deck across the three CTs I’ve registered it. My opponent Wastelanded me out of the game at least once in all three losses. In this deck specifically, I do not believe I have the discipline to play Wasteland. I have on multiple occasions lost a game because I was too aggressive with my Wastelands against opponents who also have Wasteland. I am more comfortable playing more Caverns and Plains than a few Wastelands, as I don’t want to put myself in a position where my opponent and I Wasteland each other back and forth and I am in a worse position because of it.

Sideboard

3 Swords to Plowshares

Although Chalice of the Void is amazing versus the majority of the format, there are a few specific decks were Chalice is not good and you also need a removal spell. The number one matchup for StP is against Death and Taxes. While Chalice is great on turn 1 on the play against AEther Vial and Mother of Runes, it’s actively bad when we are on the draw and also is not effective in the long game at stopping their Swords to Plowshares, as Flickerwisp can remove our Chalices, setting them to zero for the rest of the game. Because Chalice isn’t going to be a good answer to our opponent’s Swords, we would rather have a removal spell, and Swords to Plowshares is the best one there is. Sultai Delver and Shardless Sultai have fallen out of favor as of late, but this plan of cut the Chalices and add the Swords is also the plan in those matchups.

3 Rest in Peace
3 Containment Priest

Adding white to our Eldrazi deck isn’t just so we can play some sweet cards in our main deck. It’s just as important for our sideboard, as white has access to some of the most effective sideboard answers in the game. Both of these cards are answers to some of the naughty combo players that don’t want to play fair. Rest in Peace is particularly effective against Reanimator, Dredge, Storm, and Lands; Containment Priest is effective against Reanimator, Show and Tell, and Aether Vial. Combo players want to do mean things, and these cards don’t let them.

2 Disenchant

A simple answer for a lot of problematic cards. Batterskull, Blood Moon, Back to Basics, Ensnaring Bridge, Baleful Strix, Moat, Solitary Confinement, Humility, Food Chain, and Aluren are, among others, cards you need to answer to win. Disenchant is an easy way to do that.

2 Thorn of Amethyst

Thalia is really good and sometimes you want two in play. Great vs. Storm-based combo decks and effective vs. certain Delver strategies.

1 Sword of Fire and Ice

True-Name Nemesis is really difficult to beat and the decks that play it will sometimes kill your first sword.

1 Armageddon

Why play Wasteland to destroy one land when you can just destroy them all? While a nice “fun-of”, this card has some very real applications. Against decks where you are not the favorite in the long game, you can steal games by playing an Armageddon while you are ahead on board early on. Armageddon, like Cataclysm in Death and Taxes, was more relevant when Miracles was the top dog. Some people are still trying to cast Terminus, so I like having the one copy of Armageddon still.

Gameplay

On the surface this deck is fairly straightforward. Play the thing that best prevents your opponent from playing a real game of Magic and attack the face.

  • Take time to evaluate your opening hand before making your first play. Land sequencing matters a lot in this deck and sometimes isn’t intuitive. City of Traitors is not your ideal turn 1 play, but can sometimes be your best option as it is imperative that you have a turn 1 play. The game win percentage with this deck goes way down if you don’t make a turn 1 play.
  • Be aggressive. This deck is not interested in playing a nice, long, fair game of Magic. Prevent your opponent from playing Magic, attack them until they are dead. That’s the game plan. While cards like Eldrazi Displacer and Stoneforge Mystic allow us to play and win a longer game, our Plan A is win fast.
  • When able, keep Karakas open to protect your Thalias. Turning your opponent’s removal spell into an Unsummon will let you put them back into the vice the next turn. Also, if need be, Thalia, Heretic Cathar plus Karakas can act as a Maze of Ith against your opponent’s largest attacker.
  • Because Death and Taxes is a deck with multiple Karakas, Thalias are actively bad against them. You can’t afford to spend two or three mana every turn just for them to bounce your creature. Side all or most of them out.
  • Put your equipment on Thalia. Thalia has first strike, so you will get counters onto Jitte or get a Sword of Fire and Ice trigger before other creatures deal damage. This can make blocking very troublesome for your opponent.
  • If your opponent is a creature deck and you can’t reasonably end the game before they are going to take board control, consider siding in Containment Priest. Eldrazi Displacer with a Containment Priest in play reads 2C: Exile target creature. Sometimes assembling this combo is our only way to win.
  • If you need Cavern to cast a Stoneforge Mystic, name artificer instead of Kor. Bluffing Blade Splicer can be advantageous by getting your opponent to unnecessarily focus on Eldrazi Displacer.

Good Matchups

Combo decks when they don’t win turn 1 on the play. We stop people from doing what they want to be doing and we attack their face off. Chalice of the Void, Thalia, and Thought-Knot Seer combined with whatever sideboard card is relevant to the matchup shine here.

Delver decks without Abrupt Decay. Chalice of the Void is great and counters almost their entire deck. If they don’t have Abrupt Decay they are probably losing to Chalice, as Kolaghan’s Command costs approximately 1 million mana, and that’s without Thalia in play. Chalice isn’t always in play on turn 1 so this matchup isn’t a cakewalk every time, but it’s in your favor.

Any deck that can’t beat a turn 1 Chalice. Seriously, Chalice of the Void is a card that beats entire decks by itself. If the opponent’s best plan against Chalice of the Void is “hope they don’t draw Chalice of the Void,” you are definitely favored.

Bad Matchups

Death and Taxes. None of our disruption hurts them particularly much, and with Recruiter of the Guard and Flickerwisp they are better set up to win the long game. Siding out Chalice and Thalias and bringing in removal and Disenchant help, but it’s an uphill battle. Winnable but difficult.

Decks with multiple Abrupt Decays. One of our worst matchups is Shardless Sultai; luckily few people still play that deck. The unholy trifecta of Tarmogoyf, Baleful Strix, and Abrupt Decay allows them to not only beat our disruption, but beat our creatures too. Shardless will bury us in cards eventually with Ancestral Vision so the matchup is miserable. Sultai Delver doesn’t have the same raw card advantage as Shardless, but they play Decay, Goyf and Strix all the same.

Turn 1 Blood Moon decks. We are as weak to turn 1 Blood Moon as most of the format is to turn 1 Chalice. Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher are literally uncastable while under Blood Moon and our only way to remove it are the two sideboard Disenchants. The premier turn 1 Blood Moon deck at the moment also happens to play four Ensnaring Bridge, another card we cannot beat without Disenchant. The plan against these decks is to avoid these decks.

Decks with multiple copies of True-Name Nemesis. Any deck that includes True-Name Nemesis in numbers is going to be problematic. As long as the opponent has an answer for Reality Smasher, the only creature of ours that can attack through a True-Name Nemesis, we are fighting an uphill battle. If our opponent’s deck also includes Stoneforge Mystic in addition to multiple True-Names, then we are going to need our Sword of Fire and Ice to have any chance. Reality Smasher matches up well against a single True-Name, but if that True-Name has a friend to block with or has a sharp stick in its hand we are done for.

Wrap up

It’s difficult to put down the Brainstorms after relying on them for so long. Any deck that does not include them must be of an exceptionally high power level to be an acceptable deck choice. This deck fits the bill.

Of the many Chalice of the Void decks, this, in my opinion, is the best one. The problem with other prison decks or stompy decks is that they do not apply enough pressure early on. While they are fiddling around with Planeswalkers or cards like Ensnaring Bridge, this deck isn’t playing around like that. It’s coming at you fast and it’s coming at you hard.

If turn 1 Chalice, turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer, turn 3 Reality Smasher makes you feel warm and fuzzy as your opponent dies without making a relevant play, this is the deck for you.

Peter Tragos is a former SCG Open grinder with five top 8’s to his credit, and has qualified for the first two Nerd Rage Gaming Championship Series championship tournaments. He also loves ketchup and Lady Gaga more than anyone else. Follow him @SphinxofTragosi.

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