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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sky Noodle

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sky Noodle
Written by:
  • John Ryan Hamilton

📅 December 09, 2020

⏱️9 min read

Since the advent of Yorion D&T about a month ago, there has been a decent amount of pushback from some of the community, either doubting the strength of Yorion, Sky Nomad or valuing the consistency of a 60 card deck. In lieu of fighting the exact same argument over and over again, I wanted to put all of my thoughts in one place so people could hear exactly what I had to say on the topic.

Drawing your Best Cards?

Let's start with the elephant in the room: “You draw your best cards less often.” This is the exact argument I hear time and time again when it comes to Yorion, Sky Nomad. It's been the strongest argument for not playing > 60 cards in your deck since… basically forever. The problem with this is that it doesn't fully address the situation, especially when you add Yorion, Sky Nomad into the math. The crux of this argument hinges on the idea that for the most part, your best cards are much better than whatever the “next best” cards you could use to replace them, and decks are fundamentally designed to want to draw and use their best cards.

This assumes that

  • the power level curve of your deck is fairly high (IE: your 1st best card is waaaaaay better than your 30th best card)
  • that you don't have similarly powerful cards to fill out the 61st+ card(s) in your deck

Powerful cards have fairly unique identities. In Death & Taxes, this argument takes the form of “You always want to draw Aether Vial, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Wasteland, Rishadan Port, etc.” In the world of 2020 Legacy, however, this argument does not bear nearly as much weight as it did in the past. We live in a world where the fair decks have more answers for Aether Vial, the combo decks care even less about your Aether Vial, and D&T itself needs Aether Vial less. A world where Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is arguably not even the best 2 drop hatebear in the deck (sorry Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Spirit of the Labyrinth is busted). A world where mana denial is less powerful than maybe any other point in the format's history (at least since I started playing in 2013).

To expand upon the above analysis a little before jumping into the next one: Let's start with Aether Vial. I've never been less confident in loose Aether Vial keeps than I am with present day Legacy. The fair blue decks often have 6 forces to potentially stop turn 1 Aether Vial, everyone has Oko, Thief of Crowns, and control has Abrupt Decay on top of that. The mirror has Skyclave Apparition. The combo decks are more about speed and less about fighting through your hate, making your flash hatebears less relevant at rebuilding boards.

I'm not saying Aether Vial isn't a good card in D&T. It's clearly still an extremely powerful mana cheat that can empower some strong starts. However, Death and Taxes these days can and will use most of its mana throughout the game, and risky keeps with Aether Vial but low land counts just don't cut it anymore. D&T is very competent at casting creatures and killing your opponent now. It has to be.

More than just Aether Vial

You don't need Aether Vial in your opening hands to beat people. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has aged even more poorly than Aether Vial. She lines up worse vs almost every fair deck than she did 2 years ago, to the point where I've been shaving Thalia, Guardian of Thraben vs fair blue decks in postboard games. Since Death and Taxes can't disrupt the mana of opposing decks as reliably as it could in the past, the “tax” presented by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is just drastically less impactful.

Unlike during most of Legacy's past, D&T now has access to an extremely powerful secondary maindeck hatebear in Spirit of the Labyrinth. Essentially: the power level curve of the 2 drop slot in D&T lies pretty flat, having access to that many similarly powerful hatebears means that the opportunity cost of not drawing a specific one is a fair bit lower. (I think it's entirely possible that 60 card D&T lists should even be on a 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 4 Spirit of the Labyrinth splits, but that's an argument for another day.)

Finally we get to the mana denial package. Arcum's Astrolabe now exists. Your Wastelands suck vs control decks, your Rishadan Ports don't take them off colors anymore. Even delver decks are trying to consistently cast 3 drops, and as such prioritizes hitting more land drops in deckbuilding composition, weakening D&T's ability to cheese wins with a Wasteland and a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Over legacy's lifespan, D&T's role has shifted from a soft lockout deck (mana denial + Thalia, Guardian of Thraben getting much weaker in past years) to a much more grind-centric, control oriented deck. Leaning on your mana denial less in turn lessens your need to always draw Aether Vial to better use your Wasteland and Rishadan Ports.

Extension of 60 Card Decklists

The other point is that the 80 card deck will naturally have to play some less powerful cards to make up for the extra slots. I'm not very confident this is true within the frame of D&T. Decklists have been workshopped to be an extension of 60 card lists, with the addition of a more robust Recruiter of the Guard package.

D&T is a deck that largely plays with the hand it's dealt. Oftentimes, even in 60 card lists, we have to make due with drawing a medium hatebear in a matchup it's not cut out for. And for D&T, a motley crew of medium creatures is the name of the game. The Recruiter of the Guard package does not dramatically decrease the average power level of cards in the deck, because a lot of the cards are just medium situational hatebears, and they always have been.

In addition, people love to talk about how much less likely to draw your good cards, but don't seriously take a look at the numbers. We aren't playing Battle of Wits out here, 80 is very close to 60. Even with cards that have no replacement in the deck, like Aether Vial, the odds of seeing it are approximately 8% lower. You still have turn 1 Aether Vial in a fair number of your games, your good cards are still all very clearly in the deck and you still draw them. Essentially, your good cards are all still in the deck, the power level of D&T's cards lies very flat, and the opportunity cost of the extra cards is fairly low.

Now, with all that said, am I advocating just putting 80 cards in your deck just because your best cards are less good so it doesn't matter? No, of course not. Regardless of the severity of the downside, if there's no discernable upside, what would be the point? That's where a lot of people get lost in the weeds of the argument. Yes, obviously you draw your best cards less often, making your deck less consistent is bad, these are easy knee jerk reactions to make if there's no upside to this deckbuilding choice. But these arguments ignore the literal reason this deck exists: Yorion, Sky Nomad.

Praise the Noodle

It's impossible to quantify just how relevant a big expensive flickerwisp as a free 8th card in all of your hands is, so people naturally like to echo the same argument for not playing more than 60 cards we've been hearing for years. But putting Yorion, Sky Nomad in your deck is a much different can of worms than playing the 61st card “because your deck has a toolbox.” Yorion, Sky Nomad fundamentally shifts and empowers D&T's roles across a broad swath of matchups.

Like I mentioned earlier, D&T is much more of a control deck than a mana denial deck now. Especially with the addition of Skyclave Apparition, we can focus a lot more on answering what the opponent is trying to do in the early to midgame before turning the corner. With that said, 60 card D&T just isn't cut out to keep pace with the value generators of 2020. Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Oko, Thief of Crowns, and Dreadhorde Arcanist can all bury you in card advantage while also winning the game for your opponent.

Long gone are the days of grinding out miracles with Aether Vial + Recruiter of the Guard + Flickerwisp chains. That plan doesn't win vs control anymore. Before playing Yorion, Sky Nomad, I was leaning hard into cards like Cataclysm or Armageddon to lean into the aggressor plan vs control and slam the door shut before they could stabilize, because you just can't keep up anymore.

Vs Control

Enter: Yorion, Sky Nomad. It's no small feat to singlehandedly flip the control matchup on its head, but Yorion, Sky Nomad does just that. It's hard to understate just how powerful the addition of an extra card in every opening hand is in D&T, especially one that can flicker your entire board, easily netting 2+ cards in the process. It puts a ton of strain on snow to always have an answer ready for it, similar to having Cataclysm or Armageddon, except it's 100% to be in every hand now.

With how long the matchup goes, it's also not unreasonable to get a Aether Vial to 5 vs the control decks and have it be an uncounterable giant value creature (even without having a Karakas in play, which is even more gravy). The card is so individually powerful and consistent that it led to the deckbuilding decision of not having a single other card in the sideboard for the snow matchup.

Vs Tempo

Yorion, Sky Nomad's reach extends beyond the context of control. Delver matchups in the past have often come down to trading resources 1 for 1 and reaching a topdeck stage of the game. With Skyclave Apparition in the mix to answer Oko, Thief of Crowns, or just have extra answers to arcanist, this is even more true. Yorion, Sky Nomad is the inevitability in the topdeck war. Even ignoring gaining advantage via the flicker effect, a late game flying 4/5 can often close easily vs delver. This let's D&T play the control role to its fullest extent without having to worry about the inconsistency of getting into a topdeck war against a cantrip deck.

Vs Fair Nonblue

Against slow boardstally matchups like the mirror or maverick, Yorion, Sky Nomad is an unrelenting card advantage machine. Again, adding Skyclave Apparition into the mix gave D&T the perfect answer to the Aether Vial and Umezawa's Jitte subgames of the mirror, and games will very often progress to the board stall late game. In these scenarios, Yorion, Sky Nomad is borderline unbeatable, often chaining off multiple Flickerwisp, Recruiter of the Guards, Stoneforge Mystics, or Skyclave Apparitions to generate a massive swing.

Vs Combo

Going even as far as combo matchups, where Yorion, Sky Nomad is clearly the weakest, D&T can often find itself in a position where it exhausted every resource keeping the opponent from doing their thing, and now has to scrape together a kill from the random piddling creatures it has left. Yorion, Sky Nomad shows up here as another tool of inevitability. More relevantly than Yorion, Sky Nomad itself, however, is the addition of more sideboard space to support this weakness. Yorion D&T builds heavily slant the sideboard to fight various combo strategies, since Yorion, Sky Nomad itself is already such a huge role player in fair matchups. The matchups where Yorion, Sky Nomad hurts the most are ones where your best cards are largely irreplaceable. As I mentioned earlier, Spirit of the Labyrinth does a lot of heavy lifting as a secondary hatebear to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, in both fair and combo based matchups, so not a lot of points are lost there.

Vs Other

The main weaknesses are matchups where Wasteland is actively good, like Dark Depths or Cloudpost, where Yorion, Sky Nomad has notably felt less powerful than traditional D&T. Luckily these decks don't make up a huge portion of the meta as of right now, and Dark Depths is a good matchup even with the handicap of Yorion, Sky Nomad in your deck.

“PLAY THE DANG CARD”

More than anything, all I can say is “PLAY THE DANG CARD.” And if you can't, watch someone else play the dang card. There's content of me kicking butt in the AnziD Legacy Open:

As well as a deep dive into the Yorion D&T vs Snowko matchup alongside @AnzidMTG:

Even easier than that, talk to the people that have been working and tuning this list for the past month. @JasonKMurry and I are both excellent resources if you want to pick someone's brain about the deck and the choices made therein.

I'm just truly tired of seeing the same “I want to draw my Aether Vial more” or “60 cards is more consistent than 80” arguments being rehashed time and time again with no substance or real counterargument to the points I keep trying to present to people. The deck is putting up very strong results and I think people are better served not brushing aside all the work I and others have put into the archetype. This is one of the best times to be playing D&T in a long time and Yorion, Sky Nomad is one of the most powerful D&T lists I've played in my 7 years on the deck.

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