Home > Spreading Cheese > Spreading Cheese – Varied Legacy

Spreading Cheese – Varied Legacy

Hi everyone. Sorry, I have been neglecting writing articles for a while. I needed some time off to rearrange everything in my life, and I even took some time off Magic, and it’s safe to say that I’m back stronger than ever. Sometimes you just need to take a break from the game and that’s perfectly fine. If you’re not feeling the game, relax, clear your head, and take a deep breath.

Let me be perfectly honest: The primary Magic-related factor for my leave of absence was the dominance of Caw-Blade in Standard. As a primarily rogue deckbuilder, having one strategy be so efficient and hard to disrupt was very frustrating for me. It’s true that you can brew to beat that deck, and many builders better than I (for example Conley Woods and Michael Flores) have come up with their own builds which have proved to be at least mildly successful against Caw-Blade. Unfortunately, I do not have the time and resources to build and extensively test decks. I get to have only around 5-7 rounds of Magic per week, and not every deck I play against is Caw-Blade or RUG. Which means that I can’t really refine my play.

I tried building a few things, and as I mentioned in my previous article, I was working on a RB Rock type of deck, but in this current format not playing Jace, The Mind Sculptor (which is, if you are to believe Patrick Chapin (I do), the best card in Magic, period) seems very, very wrong (unless you are playing an aggro deck). As I was about to give up, Sam Black posted an article with the deck I had been trying to build for ages but wasn’t able to. It’s basically a deck that utilizes my three favorite planeswalkers, in order: Tezzeret, Venser and Gideon. It’s an amazing list, and it can work wonders, but it requires immense amounts of playtesting due to the huge variance in the deck. And time for playtesting is the thing that I did not have.


Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m quite good at picking up and playing any deck, and I am almost never overwhelmed by the complexity of a deck, but the issue here is variance. For those not really aware of what that means, let me explain. Part of my day job requires me to be a decent statistician, but thankfully the variance here I’m talking about requires no such knowledge. Let me demonstrate by providing two examples:

1. Legacy Burn by Patrick Sullivan

2. Tezzeret ThopterSword by Drew Levin

Now look at the first list. Every spell except for the Figures of Destiny is a 4-of. Not only that, every spell serves the same purpose: Deal damage to your opponent. This is a deck that lacks variance. Note: Lack of variance is not necessarily a bad thing. To the contrary, many players would prefer a less varied deck. Also note: Variance does not equal Consistency. Variance means how varied your deck is in terms of cards and the general plan, whereas Consistency means what percentage of the time do you actually get your plan working.

Still not clear? Let me explain in more concrete terms. Draw a sample hand from that deck.  If you count Goblin Guide as a burn spell, what are the odds that your opening hand will contain a burn spell? Even without doing the actual math (which is more complicated than you would think, and most people usually get it wrong), 32 out of 60 cards in the deck are “burn spells”. Since your plan in the deck is burning the opponent to death, it seems that the odds are in your favor. This is Consistency.

Now let me explain variance. Not in the statistical sense, but in the Magic deckbuilding sense. Let’s play a game. I take out all the lands from the deck, which means only the spells remain. Now, I pick a random card from the deck and lay it face down. What type of spell would you bet (Wescoe check) this card is? If you guessed “Burn”, you are statistically most likely right. (32 out of 39) Because the deck isn’t really varied, almost all of the spells are burn spells.

Now here’s a counter(top)-example: Check the second deck I just linked. Let’s play the same game, removing the lands. I pick a random card, what type of spell is it? Now, if you’re sneaky, you might have noticed that the deck has a card type division of 19 Artifact, 2 Enchantment, 15 Instant, 6 Planeswalker. So, statistically speaking, the most likely choice is “Artifact”. 19 out of 42 isn’t as good as 32 out of 39, is it? (if it’s not immediately obvious, the burn one is 82% while the other is 45%.) So predicting what you’ll draw is much harder in the second deck, is it not? To compound that, even if you say “Artifact”, it doesn’t really cut it, does it? There are artifacts that act as extra lands, artifacts that act as removal, there’s the Top, the Bridge, the Foundry and the Sword, all of which do very different things. Which means the deck is very varied.

Just to hammer the argument home, is the deck inconsistent, since it is so varied? Not at all. Look at it from another perspective. How many cards can outright stall a game? 23, if you stretch the definition a little bit. How many cards are tutors/draw effects? 17. Or 23, if you count fetchlands. The deck has a very solid plan, the plan is hard to disrupt and even if you destroy a key component, it can be reacquired by Academy Ruins or a new one can be found easily. The deck has many means to protect itself. Not convinced? Here’s a counter-counter-example:

3. Charbelcher by Ben Perry

The deck looks very unvaried. Almost every single card is a mana generation card. That’s not the point though, think about the consistency: How many cards in that deck are win conditions? 7. How many card draw effects does the deck have? 0. How many ways does the deck have to protect its combo? 0 (pre-board). You basically have to mull down until you get your combo in your opening hand, and then hope your opponent doesn’t have the answer. Not a very solid plan for game 1. Yes, Burning Wish can be a win condition in itself too, but that requires you to jump through yet another hoop. So you’re saying that a combo deck is inherently inconsistent? I have a counter-counter-counter-example for you:

4. High Tide by Jesse Hatfield

5. Dredge by David Thomas

Look at these decks. High Tide isn’t very varied, while Dredge appears crazy varied. What do they have in common though? The High Tide deck consists of Win Condition, Protection and Card Draw. The Belcher list looks pathetic in comparison. High Tide is ridiculously consistent. Take it from me, I’ve played it, and it rocks. If you are fortunate enough to obtain a set of Candelabras, do play this deck. It’s a blast to play, it’s insanely resilient, and it requires you to think a lot when playing. If you can’t afford Candelabras, then play Dredge. The deck, as some of you already know, is one of my favorite decks, and for a good reason. As long as you get a way to discard a card in your opening hand (22 out of 60), you basically win game 1. Why? Because Dredge is essentially drawing 6 cards per turn, since your graveyard is actually what matters. More on these two decks later, but I hope you get the idea of Variance vs. Consistency by now.

Now, the whole point of this huge tangent was that varied decks require a lot of playtesting. Don’t get me wrong, unvaried decks aren’t necessarily easy to play. You can face a lot of difficult gameplay decisions in both varied and unvaried decks. But I’m implying that varied decks have more of an inherent difficulty, since you can’t expect to have a certain kind of card at all times. You need to be able to attack from all the angles, and to be able to do that you need to understand all the angles. That is the aspect which requires playtesting, since there are usually many angles that are not immediately obvious. Inconsistent decks, on the other hand, are just bad. I’ve tried to justify them several times in the past, but in the end you end up getting burned by (ha!) variance. This time I’m talking about real statistical variance though.

I’ve tried many Legacy combo decks before, but none have struck true with me as much as Dredge and High Tide did. Most people would say Dredge is easier to play and High Tide is an extreme mental exercise, but I completely disagree. I think playing High Tide is easier than playing Dredge. I do not find the math of High Tide to be brain-exploding, but maybe that’s because I’m essentially a mathematician (Here’s a secret, even though I do a lot of high level math, I’m terrible with basic operations like addition, so it’s not because of that, anyone can play this deck if they can focus). On the other hand, Dredge is really complicated because you have to go around many hoops to actually get to win if you’re playing through hate. Here’s an excellent article on Dredge by Richard Feldman, if you are a Dredge player you have to read this one, and his list is both very solid and rather cheap (no LEDs!)(and paying for StarCity premium is definitely worth that drop in cost anyway (yada yada you’ve heard it a million times before but SCG premium is actually really good (even if you don’t want to pay for premium, at least read Drew Levin’s articles, he’s got really good insights on the Legacy metagame))).

So, anyway, in my opinion, those decks are the decks to play right now. People might say that they’ll hate you for playing that, but they won’t, and even if they do, who cares anyway? Haters gonna hate. Just get your game on. Oh, those decks die to Mental Misstep you say? I disagree. After giving it a bit of thought and watching people’s reactions, I believe that card is severely overrated. Read that Dredge article I linked for how Dredge doesn’t care, and read this  article by Ari lax to see why most other decks don’t care either. Misstep will indeed change Legacy, but not in the way you think. It will change Legacy because people will think it’s good, and play it regardless of the situation, which means you can “get them”. I have the perfect deck for Legacy to “get” Mental Misstep decks. It’s a combo deck, which means no matter what they will never board out Misstep, which is ironic because the only 1-CMC card in the deck is Brainstorm, which is unlikely to be countered, since they’ll hold it for a “combo piece”. I don’t want to divulge this deck now, because we’re out of space and I want to do a detailed one on this deck later anyway.

In the meantime, think about New Phyrexia and how you can build to beat Caw-Blade. By reading this article, it’s probably no secret that my return to Magic is because of Legacy, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll ignore Standard. To the contrary, I am already brewing, and Joey and BHJ hit the mark on what I will be building when they were talking about NPH spoilers. Go back and listen to Yo! MTG Taps! if you care to find out (Hint: it’s going to be an improvement of a deck that I posted way black. Wait, that’s a typo. Or is it?).

P.S. For questions, comments, feedback, send me an e-mail at Spreading.Cheese [at] gmail [dot] com or follow me on twitter @nayon7.
P.P.S I now have my own podcast about rogue deckbuilding and Magic in general called Horde of Notions! Check it out at www.hordeofnotions.com
P.P.P.S Your weekly metal fix: Origin – Expulsion of Fury
P.P.P.PS Want more metal? I’m now a writer on http://www.heavyblogisheavy.com/Heavy Blog Is Heavy , so metalheads can check out my writings about metal on there. See the author called Nayon? That’s me.

  1. thefringthing
    May 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    You’re abusing the word “variance” here. It’s a technical term in statistics, and that is the sense that is usually meant when “variance” is used in the context of a game.

    • May 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

      I know. But it’s only because most people abuse it without context. So I try to use it as a blanket term to cover what people usually mean.

      And no, most people use the term “variance” wrong, if you take into account the statistical definition.

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