Guest Article: Thawing Glaciers

March 31, 2021

35 minute read

Tse Shuen Wan
Thawing Glaciers print 5000x.jpg?v=1568965698

Hello friends! It's been awhile since you've heard from me since I've been a little more active on Twitter/Discord/Twitch. I've been wanting to put out some more concrete thoughts on each colour combination that I've tested with the new banlist/rule changes. I plan to cover all the different combinations of midrange/control I have played so far after leading on some general findings! Buckle in, it's going to be a long one.

The State of Legacy

The format has sped up significantly, even if this was not immediately obvious.

For what seemed like an eternity, it was difficult for a solid mana denial plan to be effective against Snow and its ilk because of the pervasive presence of .

Delver variants have largely divided into a very distinct dichotomy following the bans; One that retained its grindy strength by adopting Uro, and the other by shedding the 'fat' and leaning heavily on explosive starts or heavy mana denial to win quickly. To quickly separate these:

I've included a few MTGO handles (and will continue to include them) if you were interested in taking a look at what some of these lists look like. These are some of the players I've played most against (all of which are really good).

Anecdotally, I feel like the more polar your build of tempo is, the more successful it is likely to be. Delver has always been very flexible but being in the middle ground worsens what your deck is fundamentally good against while only slightly improving your worse matchups.

Unfortunately for us reactive decks, the fastest deck often dictates what is required for us to maintain a positive matchup against 'delver' and I think fundamentally what is required of a control deck right now is quite difficult to satisfy. Not only do you need to have fast interaction to fight these / decks, you also need some way to have game against the shell that has largely been filled by and even out of tempo.

Prison cards; The Format.

Well, lets not beat about the bush: was prison killer #1. Unchallenged, he defeated every 3 mana planeswalker in existence, most 4 mana planeswalkers and probably most 5 mana ones too (Honorable mention to , he sometimes beat that too!).

With Oko gone, the slew of prison walkers printed in War of the Spark have returned in force; , and of course /.

Unfortunately, with these heavy blue prison cards, they demand a very specific answer right as they are played. My personal play experience is that blue mirrors have become extremely volatile...

While play skill remains a key component, an astonishing amount of games end when a prison card resolves and prevents the opponent from playing any magic at all ( in particular). If you don't play /, the chances of you being able to do anything productive in that game is incredibly low.

In low resource games, cards like have proven themselves to almost always be better than pure engine cards. She pulls you ahead on cards while preventing your opponent from having huge swing turns with top-decked cards like .

Cards like / were historically powerful cards in midrange/control mirrors, but in the face of these prison-engine cards, they don't always accomplish what they once did.

Where does that leave us? Well there are a few solutions to this conundrum, the most obvious being to play which was Snow's solution to these walkers in the first place (and to defeat versions of itself). Post board, employing a critical mass of s (3-4, with ) can also be quite effective, but failing to play either of these cards usually meant you had to leave in a pile of Forces, creating significant tension in decision making when one is also trying to play around and .

Choosing any one of these options create other weaknesses as a Quid Pro Quo type tradeoff; the variety of solutions have in turn generated an entire metagame of distinct blue midrange/control shells which are able to coexist. (Limited assimilation; . More on that further below)

Non-blue is back!

Unsurprisingly, decks like Death and Taxes that saw fringe play during 's reign have become forerunners in the new format. Maverick and other decks like Lands/Loam with the ability to play have also returned and serve as genuine contenders against / decks that dominated the format with a fierce stranglehold over the last year.

While none of these decks have proved to be impossible to beat in pre-board games, the existence of these decks as a sizeable portion of the metagame tax deck construction. Cards such as , , , and make games somewhat tricky to navigate and can easily steal matches since mana bases have largely reverted to being dual-centric.

Learning how to build a good mana base is now more important than ever, and understanding when and how to play around wasteland in the context of your own deck is essential to surviving the early turns.

All blue decks playing red have had to adjust very drastically to the return of & . Losing / as a source of recursion for s and s have really pushed reactive decks towards black and white removal.

Of these, white becomes the clear best options against the multitude of delve threats (, and are seeing play), while black becomes a close second with , , and being very competitive (in that order).

In some ways, the existence of these archetypes restrain deckbuilding in a similar fashion to how the / slowly but surely forced the same decks into obscurity over the last year.

The cost to playing a blue control deck with neither black nor white is very high, since pyroblast and lightning bolt don't always cut it against these decks.

In this next section I will attempt to discuss some of the decks I have played in the past few weeks. Although I don't fully understand the consequences of these conclusions, I hope to give a good picture of where each deck stands in the metagame and the niche they fill so you as a reader can make an informed choice on which deck is suitable for you to pick up for the coming Showcase/PTQs in April!

is quite an interesting phenomenon since its been adopted by some delver decks following 's departure from the format. In some ways, this is reminiscent of as a homogenizing force among blue decks. Where Uro truly differs from Oko is the steep deckbuilding restrictions it imposes on the player. Without , a very large portion of the metagame has been relegated to 2/3 colours with only a few adventurous souls (or stubborn, depending on who you ask) choosing otherwise.

I don't think any invested legacy player needs any convincing on 's power level at this point, but let's keep in mind Uro is both a huge boon and a huge weakness just by existing in your list.

A Tour of Control Decks

Bant (mechint)

Strengths: High Velocity Engine, Basic Heavy, Proactive, Sufficient Tempo Compensation, Individually Good Cards

Weaknesses: Poor Non-blue Interaction, Card Efficient Counter Magic, One Dimensional

As we've seen the last few weeks play out, Bant 'Miracles' quickly presented itself as a great contender for the most successful control shell.

It plays and : the two best creature removal spells in the format and boasts a threat dense, high velocity engine that is frighteningly similar to the early versions of its predecessor.

Game 1, the deck is very powerful against most fair blue strategies and can close the game very quickly with a slew of prison walkers or forces behind. is great against hand disruption (, , ) while also acting as an engine-board-stabiliser against all tempo strategies.

Conveniently, the deck elegantly compensates for its tempo negative clunkiness by playing an unbelievably high density of 7 Forces in the maindeck.

Each maindeck card is individually powerful, lessening the need for the high amounts of card selection that Miracles is typically defined by. Unfortunately, post board games are where this deck truly suffers.

Despite its long list of merits, serves as an important cornerstone in the deck's gameplan; recreates every weakness classical miracles had that Uro solved. In addition to difficulties closing out games when is exiled, the deck can be anemic against opponents with easy access to , or .

Despite many decks sharing these issues, Bant has shown the least amount of resilience in deck construction. There aren't a tonne of good ways to reconfigure the sideboard to ameliorate it, at least not while respecting combo and graveyard as real archetypes. Relying on forces as your main way to interact can also backfire against / heavy decks, non-creature spells that slip past counter magic are very difficult to interact with.

BUG (pokemoki / ecobaronen / lynnchalice)

Strengths: Multiple Engines, High Deckbuilding Flexibility, High Average Card Quality, Permanent Removal

Weaknesses: Mana Hungry, Fragile Mana Early, Reliant on Tempo Compensators, Delve Threats &

BUG is able to diversify its interaction significantly through , , and . You get to play the prized and have a great separate engine card in that continuously fuels .

In a long game, significantly improves the deck's weaknesses against , and which Bant can sometimes be vulnerable to. Post board, can act as a secondary win condition since both and are accessible through it.

Given the arsenal of high quality options, BUG's resilience to changes in the metagame is unparalleled by any of the other control variants: A simple inspection of performing BUG lists over time demonstrate clearly how influential the pilot's deckbuilding can alter matchup profiles.

BUG plays well through prison cards like and has outs to most resolved threats. This gives the pilot much more agency over the outcome of games where they lost a force battle in the early turns. Where BUG struggles most is in the mid-game(T3-5) where the colour requirements of its spells tend to cause the deck to slow down significantly.

Fetching a basic to play around wasteland can often create cascading delays in mana expenditure by bottlenecking coloured mana. This extends to and , which delay double spell turns, and even to situations where you are playing from behind. The deck is just not adept at answering the board and producing a threat on the same turn. Despite the high average card quality, tempo negativity is a recurring theme for the archetype, (Except you, !) ironically increasing the value of free counter magic as a means to convert cards into tangible material. The games with and without are night and day.

Jeskai (lynnchalice)

Strengths: Mana, Hyper Efficiency, Ultra Xerox, Decision Intensive, Low Variance

Weaknesses: Abstract Gameplay & Sideboard Mapping, Low Performance Floor, Reactive, Off-meta 'stuff'

Jeskai is the modern day iteration of Miracles. It reserves an unusually large portion of the main for card selection and makes up for the excessive xerox elements by leaning heavily into mana positive swing cards.

By sacrificing the raw power of green, the deck is able to considerably compress its mana curve, resulting in an extremely lean, low to the ground control deck with a solid mana base that frequently cannot be attacked. Post board, most lists gain access to a critical mass of effects making it an oddity among most control variants with a tempo positive, mana positive, card efficient answer to the expensive blue threats seeing popular play.

Outside of having great counterplay against , being able to consistently set up a fast and leverage multiple copies of lets it remain very competitive against the aggressive delver variants.

Unfortunately, in order to beat the 'meta' blue decks, the sideboard is very heavily skewed in order to run sufficient answers to these game-ending threats.

acts as a great tool against unfavourable matchups, but is not always the ideal solution: Classic prison cards the deck utilised over the years have significantly diminished in value since 3 drops and have grown in popularity. The deck closes the game slowly and relies on card advantage generators that are not as immediate as or .

Non-blue planeswalkers (, ) present a vexing problem for the deck especially if the matchup is also about raw card quantity. Understanding your role in each matchup and identifying your opponent's deck quickly is vital to being successful. Failure to sequence cantrips correctly or making unforced gameplay errors always result in catastrophic game states.

Grixis (Ihavethefire)

Strengths: , Hand Disruption, Reach, Proactive

Weaknesses: Mana, Conditional Removal, Virtual Card Advantage

Grixis is a midrange deck that fills the niche of preying on the combo/pseudo-combo decks designed to beat the Uro decks.

and are not the powerhouses they once were in fair mirrors, but they retained most value against all variants of /.

In the preboard games, quick s are vastly underestimated by the community and often steal games despite being poor into .

Coincidentally, Grixis' disruption commonly produces game states where cards like and are at their strongest since opponents are incentivised to spend their resources immediately to avoid losing them. Despite having access to , Grixis struggles heavily in long games against both and with no good recourse.

I suspect the true reason Grixis has trailed behind other variants of control is its lack of a card quantity engine outside of .

Virtual card advantage had no real downside until the printing of and Grixis is arguably the worst colour combination at recovering from heavy card disadvantage. This is only exacerbated by the heavy saturation of black spells that already fill the core of Grixis. If the deck is to survive, it needs some structural reform that directly addresses this issue so that it can continue to keep up with engine powered control decks.

Esper (Whitefaces)

Strengths: Hand Disruption, Recursive, Explosive, Creature-Centric, Sideboard Malleability

Weaknesses: Mana Sequencing & Vulnerability, Thin Margins, Requires Constant Risk Assessment

Esper is a midrange deck enabled by a collection of value oriented creatures. in combination with is able to efficiently answer every creature threat in the format.

Having development tied to creature spells conveniently acts as a natural buffer against opposing planeswalkers. (Gone are those with outrageous starting loyalty) Unlike its Grixis counterpart, the deck packs a card advantage engine conflating with , while offers a great way to play through its natural foils (, ) via sheer explosiveness.

When ahead, Esper is able to heavily pressure the opponent's resources by means of its discard package making equally powerful in this shell. While can be problematic but offers decent counterplay while being another source of incremental card advantage.

Esper has a long history of powerful hatebears, making sideboard construction very malleable. It has the potential to be the most hostile against all flavours of Combo. Esper pilots however are in a state of constant vacillation against Tempo since the opportunity cost of playing around daze can sometimes be very high: Evaluating mana expenditure while it is available can be difficult for those unfamiliar with dual heavy decklists.

adds another layer to this by presenting difficult gambit-esque decisions when playing from behind. Understanding when it is correct to expand your hand to protect/resolve the Mentor requires deep understanding of relative roles. The mana is very fragile on early turns, making fast s problematic, and against and its ilk, games without many fetchlands can end without much pilot agency.

Despite this, Esper takes the crown for having the best uncontested mana, since it plays too many duals for to be effective once you make it to the mid-game.


I understand none of these small paragraphs do the intricacies of each deck justice; play patterns and decision-making in general contribute greatly to the success of each pilot, as it should be in our beloved Legacy format.

Despite Bant's domination over the alternatives in the current metagame, I believe the deck's construction is fundamentally flawed and over time will suffer consequences of its simplicity (Just as its predecessor did).

Regrettably I was unable to have enough games with an old favourite of mine; Punishing Thieves (Stryfo Pile) to draw conclusions on the state of the deck. For thoughts on that archetype, I defer you to my friend Chase Hansen for his thoughts!

I hope individuals continue to innovate on reactive decks in general, I've seen a few RUG lists be successful this past week, but it remains to be seen if the polarising nature of is sufficiently mitigated by the strength of .

If you have any questions regarding my thoughts or feedback, I'd be happy to answer them. You can reach me on twitter at @LynnChalice. If not, until next time!