One of the great things about Magic Online is that you can play nearly any format at any hour of the day, no matter where you live. You can be testing out several decks at once against good competition without the need to shuffle cards around between decks or proxy up a bunch of Revised Plains with the word “Karakas” in black Sharpie. Because of this, online players are usually a few steps ahead of their paper counterparts. The metagame moves faster online. Bad or outdated ideas are winnowed out long before they lose their foothold in the paper game, better ideas emerge quickly, and adjustments to those new ideas take hold just as fast.
But once in a while, online players have the misfortune of sitting on the sidelines as the paper game surges past them. The Legacy format in late 2013 was just such a time, as True-Name Nemesis hit paper Magic several weeks ahead of its online release in Commander 2013. As I discussed back in Eternal Warrior #10, three of the top 8 finishers in Grand Prix DC were running TNN. Not only that, all three of those decks were unique.
Standard players are used to such “lame duck” online metagames, but eternal players rarely see such widespread early adoption of a new card across multiple decks in the first days of its paper counterpart’s printing. The now-ubiquitous Deathrite Shaman didn’t gain momentum in Legacy until a few months after its release in Return to Ravnica. Special products such as the Commander and Planechase pre-con decks do have longer lag times between paper and online release. But we hardly noticed in the past, as it took many months for both Baleful Strix and Shardless Agent to be embraced by Legacy players. True-Name Nemesis had the good fortune of being printed immediately prior to a large paper Legacy event. It didn’t need extensive experimentation to find a home; it had several homes on arrival. The big question for Legacy players was which of these decks would emerge as lasting contenders, and how the metagame would respond to the card’s popularity.
Now that Commander 2013 has finally hit the online store, we can see the impact immediately. Players have been aggressively experimenting with TNN in all different flavors of Ux tempo decks. Star City Games columnist Glenn Jones piloted a Bant Stoneforge list with TNN to a 4-0 finish in a Legacy DE shortly after the card’s release. You can find his list here, under his MTGO screen name SecludedGlenn.
TNN also enjoyed 3-1 finishes in BUG, Grixis Control, and UWR Delver decks. In the wake of TNN’s popularity online, there has been a noticeable metagame shift in reaction to the card, as UW Miracles has surged back to Tier 1 status with its 1-mana board sweeper, Terminus. Countertop-Miracles decks remained somewhat more popular online than in paper during 2013, and their dedicated pilots’ perseverance is paying off now.
I decided to start my own playtesting with two decks: UWR and Bant. For UWR, I began with Owen Turtenwald’s 1st-place list from GP DC. In the videos below, I ran his list with only one minor modification. Owen’s deck had no basic lands, but I preferred to have one basic Island in the deck. I replaced a Tundra with an Island, and then replaced the Arid Mesas with Misty Rainforests to make sure all my fetches could get the Island. Owen wrote at some length about why he does not play Stifle. I like his argument, but if I am not playing Stifle, then I cannot protect my duals from Wasteland as RUG Delver does. There are too many decks playing Wasteland that never played it before, decks with no real mana denial plan but which are just looking to free-roll a win off of an opponent’s bad keep. I am happy to rely on Owen’s generous allotment of Brainstorm and Ponder to hit a couple land drops, but I’d rather have the basic Island to make sure I can cast those cantrips past the first turn.
After that modest change, I left everything else intact, including the sideboard; therefore the list is still credited to Owen. Here is the list I ran:
UWR Delver by Owen Turtenwald (modified)
I could tell that this would be a much more difficult deck to play than my usual sort of deck, as it was very threat-light. After reading all three articles in which he talks about the deck, I thought I had enough of an idea how to play it to try it out, so I took the deck into the 2-man queues. In the videos, you’ll see two matches against a good Reanimator player. I took Owen’s advice and aggressively countered the combo player’s cantrips. Despite that, he always seemed to have just the spell he needed. Although Griselbrand remains the primary path to victory for Reanimator, notice that Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite has made it into the maindeck now, possibly in reaction to TNN’s presence.
I had expected this to be a good matchup for UWR Delver, but it didn’t feel that way. I could identify a couple decisions I should have made another way, but they were basically coin-flip decisions, and I was left wondering whether to chalk it up to variance. Alternatively, I am wondering if the deck could benefit from a playset of Gitaxian Probe, as I seem to lack the Pro Tour level of mind-reading ability necessary to win with this deck.
Next up is Bant. I am much more comfortable with Bant decks in general, and there is a lot to be said in favor of Bant as an optimal shell for TNN. Noble Hierarch can significantly speed up the clock on your opponents in two ways. You can play TNN earlier, and he will hit harder thanks to the exalted triggers. This additional speed is crucial against combo, because Bant lacks the volume of countermagic and disruption found in UWR and BUG decks. You might also think that TNN is good against beatdown decks, shoring up one of Bant’s weaknesses owing to Bant having less creature removal than other options. However, I don’t really think you can afford to sit back with a TNN on defense all that often in those matches, as burn spells to the dome can finish you. In creature mirrors, Bant still needs to get aggressive, using Hierarch to win Tarmogoyf staredowns as it always has. The Hierarchs also allow me to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which mana-light decks like UWR Delver generally cannot.
There were a couple of high-profile Bant lists I could have chosen from, including the aforementioned one by Glenn Jones or Sam Black’s Top 8 list from GP DC. However, I play enough Bant that I preferred to run my own list tailored to my own play style and my thoughts about the online metagame. Here is my Bant list which I tested in the videos:
Bant Stoneforge by RexDart
In the past I typically played Knight of the Reliquary as my 3-drop high-end threat in Bant, but TNN improved the deck in a number of ways. TNN being blue helped make my Force of Will more reliable. Since this list only has the one playset of Goyfs that draw their strength from the graveyard, I could sideboard into Rest in Peace. The deck has a ton of exalted, so TNN can hit for massive damage even without equipment. Right now I love having access to the full suite of Pridemages in my 75, to fight Countertop-Miracles as well as opposing equipment and the stray Affinity deck that always seems to pop up online. That they work well with TNN is a nice bonus.
Alas, TNN is not all upside for the development of Bant. You won’t see it in these videos, but be aware that many players in the TP room and 2-man’s are running Golgari Charm and Zealous Persecution to fight TNN, and this is going to catch Noble Hierarch in the crossfire. Those cards were already solid against Death and Taxes, but hadn’t seen much recent play due to Junk’s dip in popularity. Beyond that level, Junk hasn’t made the resurgence I expected, but people are clearly working on it, and it has natural strengths against Bant. If -1/-1 sweepers spread like wildfire, be prepared to switch over to Deathrite Shaman as mana dork de jour for a while, or perhaps try running both like Glenn Jones’ list already does.
Before I go, I want to thank MTGO Academy for the continuing opportunity to write here and spread my love of eternal formats to the Magic Online community. This is my 10th twice-monthly column for their site, and I feel that I have grown substantially as a player through writing, but most of all through recording live match play for them. I’ve improved my presentation enormously, and I hope that you continue to enjoy watching and reading my eternal content for a long time to come. So enjoy the videos, and be sure to give me your feedback so I can make the next ten columns even better than the last!