Post MH2 Legacy Death and Taxes: New Card Evaluations
📅 June 15, 2021•
⏱️12 min read
Modern Horizons 2 introduced a number of high power level cards to Legacy. It gave us, among other things: the multi-format powerhouse of Urza's Saga, the revitalization of dead archetypes like Affinity with Thought Monitor and Nettlecyst, and the boost UR Delver needed to finally be playable with Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer… and Dragon's Rage Channeler… and Murktide Regent.
Card evaluation can be hard, so I wanted to break down some of the options D&T received in the new set, and touch on some older tech possibilities to keep an eye on as the new meta develops.
Kaldra Compleat is a card that I had fairly low expectations of going into release. It had big Elbrus, the Binding Blade vibes: cheating in a big flashy piece of equipment with a huge mana value using Stoneforge Mystic was generally perceived as “winmore” or “magic christmas land.” This could not be further from the truth.
A common misconception starts with people comparing Kaldra Compleat to Batterskull. The real comparison is with Sword of Fire and Ice. With Umezawa's Jitte being better at handling creatures, and Batterskull being better as a stabilization tool, Sword of Fire and Ice has long been stuck in an awkward middle ground where you usually only wanted it as a card advantage tool vs old control decks, a clock vs combo, and the ability to attack through True-Name Nemesis.
Fun fact, DnT used to only play Umezawa's Jitte + Batterskull in the deck until True-Name Nemesis got printed, and sofai became a mainstay in the deck ever since.
Kaldra Compleat really excels at a lot of what sofai did, with a loss of a primary card advantage tool vs control. But with the advent of both Endurance and Prismatic Ending in control shells, Sword of Fire and Ice is already losing a lot of points as a card advantage tool vs control to options like Batterskull, pushing Kaldra Compleat further in the lead as the new beatdown tool of choice.
The biggest benefit for DnT is quite simply the clock. Kaldra Compleat is without question the fastest clock DnT is capable of, for an extremely low mana investment. Batterskull and Sword of Fire and Ice clock in at 4 damage a turn, with skull having summoning sickness and sofai needing 4 mana to achieve “haste” damage that turn. When unchecked, Kaldra Compleat can deal 10 damage by the time the other equipment deal 4.
This is a huge game changer primarily vs uninteractive strategies like storm or show & tell or doomsday, where D&T can commonly lose by giving the opponent too much time to escape the soft lock pieces it uses to gum up their strategy. In these matchups your Stoneforge Mystic also generally gets by unchecked, letting you grab Kaldra Compleat with minimal concern, and putting pressure on your opponent much faster than D&T normally could.
The second piece of the puzzle is Kaldra Compleat's immunity to common forms of anti SFM sideboard options. I did not expect Kaldra Compleat to be a card I wanted vs Delver at all, but something I didn't account for before testing the card is the immunity to shatters.
In postboard games, many decks will lean on artifact destruction to handle equipment packages, be it Abrade, Knight of Autumn, Goblin Trashmaster, Ancient Grudge, Force of Vigor, etc. Kaldra Compleat is both indestructible and gives the germ token indestructible, making it rather difficult for a lot of non base-white decks in legacy to deal with once in play.
Decks like Gaak and Green Post could really punish DnT's clock potential by firing off a FoV, and postboard vs creature decks like you can't just windmill slam a jitte and start taking over the board every time. With Kaldra as an available option you can sniff out when your opponent is trying to line up a shatter to set you back, and potentially grab a Kaldra instead.
This all being said, Kaldra Compleat is a card that you really have to know how to pick your spot with. It's exceptionally punishing to just jam t2 SFM for Kaldra Compleat in interactive matchups, given her propensity to be instantly killed if you tutor up even a Batterskull.
7 mana is no joke, making it near impossible to cast in anything but the most drawn out of games. But alongside cards like Mother of Runes and Aether Vial, you can maneuver quite well across a variety of matchups, and pulling out this sledgehammer of a card to beat people to death has been an excellent tool in DnT's toolbox so far.
Solitude is another card I wasn't incredibly keen on. I expected it to make its way into DnT as a medium 1 of removal option and tech bullet with Recruiter of the Guard. Something that went under the radar with a lot of the free evoke elementals is just how good they are on rate. DnT is a deck that's quite happy going late, and a removal spell that doubles as a flash lifelink Nekrataal is something the deck is very onboard for, commonly getting to 5 mana in most creature based matchups.
Even control decks in the format have gotten more and more creature dense as time passes in legacy, and D&T has been leaving in some number of plows since the days of Monastery Mentor miracles, with that plan becoming more and more reasonable as cards like Ice-Fang Coatl and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath (and more recently Endurance) have entered into the equation. We begrudgingly leave in some number of Swords to Plowshares to handle the powerful creature options the control decks have access to, but oftentimes it just leads to having dead cards in hand on turn 15. Solitude lets you plow an early threatening creature when you need it, and produce a body lategame when a plow is otherwise fairly dead.
The secondary upside to Solitude is the more obvious one: Force of Plow. It's nice to have a 0 mana plow in the chamber when you need extras to shoot a t1 Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer or Goblin Lackey or Mother of Runes. It also works around Thalia, Guardian of Thraben tax, which lines up nicely in matchups like Delver, Infect, or Depths.
Additionally, Legacy contains a fair number of creature based combo decks that tend to go off very quickly: Reanimator, Elves, Hogaak, etc. In a lot of these matchups, mana is easily the biggest bottleneck for DnT. Most of these matchups involve D&T desperately trying to cling to life in the first turns of the game, while also needing to deploy its hate pieces to try to disrupt the opponent.
Solitude pulls a lot of weight here by way of being 0 mana to cast, giving you extra interaction while you also advance your gameplan. Tapping out for turn two Stoneforge Mystic vs elves, or a Phyrexian Revoker vs reanimator, is so often just a death sentence, but every single removal spell you throw in their way in these sorts of matchups is one step closer to enacting your endgame goals, without the use of extra mana you so desperately need.
There's also a handful smaller upsides to Solitude: breaking Bridge From Below, surprise reanimation off an Exhume, exiling an Emrakul, Aeons Torn from SnS, vialing in Flickerwisp after freecasting it for infinite value, things of that nature. These are relatively fringe applications but all pull their weight, making Solitude an important role player across a surprising amount of the legacy field.
Esper Sentinel is a card that is very hard to evaluate at first glance. Punisher mechanics are generally regarded as fairly weak. Giving your opponent options doesn't usually feel like a good thing. After playing it in a fair number of different lists, I landed on the assessment that it's much more powerful than it appears. In most fair blue matchups, the tax can weigh heavily in the early turns.
It acts very similarly to a 1 mana Thalia, Guardian of Thraben-Lite, either netting you a card or 2 or putting pressure on their early game development and being a lightning rod for removal. Against the slower combo decks the effect more prominently nets you cards, as these decks are less able to afford to pay that extra tax, but as was touched on in the Solitude section, the biggest pressure on DnT in these matchups is mana, not cards. Without the ability to draw into free interaction like Force of Will, the extra cards will often do nothing because DnT lacks the speed to deploy them.
Additionally, the card exacerbates the problems DnT has in matchups where Thalia is bad, adding extra cards with little to no text into your deck in matchups where you were already struggling. Overall, I found the card to be very powerful in fair blue matchups, some of D&Ts already solid matchups, and not helpful in the harder matchups like combo or creature based deck. I think the card's power level is on the table, but not really what the deck is looking for, at least right now.
Sanctifier En-Vec is one I think I appropriately rated: extremely niche, close to unplayable. The two sets of abilities don't particularly mix well. The best decks to hit with graveyard hate don't really look to take a 2 mana creature off the table already, so the protections are close to irrelevant.
While it at least hits decks like Dredge, Gaak, Reanimator, and Oops (Gaak in particular is a matchup where DnT has been kind of in the market for a serviceable recruiter bullet), it has a notable miss as gy hate vs lands over Rest in Peace, and GSZ hate over Containment Priest.
On the other hand, a protection from red/black creature was intriguing at one point in legacy's existence, but Grixis Control is more or less dead, and an unboltable 2/2 isn't what D&T is looking for. Also a note that many evaluators overlook is the mana cost. As a mono white deck, we like to pretend DnT has a reasonable manabase, but WW on turn 2 is pretty strenuous on the 16 (or less) white source deck. Against powerful unfair graveyard strategies, you really can't afford to not cast your 2 drop hate card on turn 2.
Overall, I really don't see a home for this card in DnT unless your local meta has a lot of decks like Gaak to hit.
The GW sword is basically a 1card combo—you can blink your SFM and go get a real piece of equipment.— Jason K. Murray (@jasonkmurray) May 24, 2021
While not in MH2, I wanted to touch on Elite Spellbinder briefly because it's a recent option that has been seeing play in some lists lately. I've tried this card in a variety of lists, and found it very lacking in traditional DnT shells.
The card is designed to be aggressive and DnT is an extremely slow deck. The more turns you give your opponent, the less relevant a 2 mana tax on a single spell is going to be. In addition, 3 mana spells have to be very good to make the cut in current DnT lists.
I find much more prevalent homes for this card to look like human tribal decks, where you're turning the corner faster with cards like Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant, with Spellbinder as a piece of disruptive top end to close out the game in the next few turns. While there are some niche interactions like putting Spellbinder in off Show and Tell and stealing their fattie when they put Omniscience into play, I really don't find this card particularly good for DnT's normal gameplan.
Amongst all the new cards, it's easy to forget that other decks are changing as well, and we can play old cards to react to these changes. The biggest metagame shifts are probably the deck construction of Bant Uro and UR Delver, and the addition of Affinity to the meta.
The Affinity craze took legacy by storm during its first weekend on Magic Online, winning the Saturday Legacy Challenge, before being chokeslammed back into reality on Sunday, with everyone and their dog packing Null Rods, Force of Vigors, and even Meltdowns.
That being said, I think this deck might be one that waits in the shadows of legacy and pops out if people don't give it enough credit. With that in mind I wanted to touch on a couple of options DnT has to combat this menace. The cards that immediately come to mind are powerful sideboard options like Serenity and Kataki, War's Wage.
These cards are quite narrow, and I wouldn't expect to want to play them in the average sideboard (I'm not even convinced Kataki is what we would want to be doing against Affinity anyway), but they're good cards to keep in mind if and when the deck rears its head in large quantities. More generally, broadly applicable tools like Phyrexian Revoker can come back to decklists as a maindeck tech piece that interferes with their gameplan.
Another card I'm particularly fond of at the moment is Powder Keg. While a strictly worse Ratchet Bomb at first glance, Powder Keg's specific text lets it blow up artifact lands in addition to all the 0 mana value creatures and artifacts Affinity generates, like Urza's Saga constructs, Germ tokens, Mox Opals, and Chalice of the Voids. This card is also a reasonably powerful tool vs current delver configurations, which I will touch on later, making it a better option to respect Affinity while not playing needlessly narrow cards.
With regards to Bant, the question I see posed a lot is “can we play Mirran Crusader again to attack through all these Ice-Fang Coatls and Uros and Endurances?” To which I answer: no. I think crusader has pretty long overstayed its welcome in DnT, and is likely to not show up in reasonable capacity unless a powerful fair BUG shows up one day.
As I mentioned before, we live in a post Skyclave Apparition era of DnT deck construction, where 3 drops have to make quite an impression to be playable. Crusader just doesn't fit that bill to me. Bant lists are on 6+ plows main with the addition of maindeck Prismatic Ending, and sideboarding in plenty of sweepers.
I find more useful cards for DnT are ones that interact with Bant, like Spirit of the Labyrinth or even Phyrexian Revoker. Kaldra Compleat also occupies the “impossible to block threat that's answered by all their white removal” slot quite well over crusader, being easier to tutor and pick your spot when the time is right, as well as being able to reuse it with Flickerwisp.
Against new UR Delver iterations, I don't think much changes from the DnT side. I was briefly interested in trying Sunlance, as Path was always at its worst vs Delver with basics, and now that the decks are maxing out on a pile of 3 or less toughness threats, I felt the time might be right for it to come back.
However, Murktide Regent quickly dashed those hopes, putting me back on Path to Exile and extra copies of Solitude as my spot removal spells of choice. One thing to take advantage of, however, is the abundance of 1 mana value creatures the deck now plays.
Something like Ratchet Bomb/Powder Keg, or even possibly Engineered Explosives, could serve quite well as a 2+ for 1 vs Delver, while pulling double duty in matchups like Elves and Affinity.
I hope this debrief helps people get settled as the current meta develops. I actually really like where D&T is in the meta currently. It feels favorable vs the fair blue decks, and some of our worse matchups have been beaten back.
The gaping hole in our defenses continues to be Elves, and that deck has been rising quite a bit in popularity, thanks to every blue mage's favorite elf Allosaurus Shepard. Outside of that, I think DnT is poised to do very well, and I'll continue to test and tweak and keep an eye on things as the meta shifts.
If you're looking for a starting point, here's a list I played in the challenge this past Sunday to a 5-2 record. I think it's an excellent jumping off point currently.
|4 Mother of Runes||4 Swords to Plowshares||1 Flagstones of Trokair||1 Deafening Silence|
|2 Phyrexian Revoker||4 Aether Vial||3 Karakas||1 Grafdigger's Cage|
|2 Spirit of the Labyrinth||1 Umezawa's Jitte||12 Plains||2 Path to Exile|
|4 Stoneforge Mystic||1 Batterskull||4 Rishadan Port||2 Surgical Extraction|
|4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben||1 Kaldra Compleat||4 Wasteland||1 Containment Priest|
|3 Flickerwisp||1 Powder Keg|
|2 Recruiter of the Guard||1 Rest in Peace|
|1 Sanctum Prelate||1 Council's Judgment|
|2 Skyclave Apparition||1 Skyclave Apparition|
|1 Solitude||1 Sword of Fire and Ice|
|1 Mindbreak Trap|
Also, if there was a card that you think should be on this list but isn't, just know this: it's probably bad.