The Backdoor to Deathblade

::EDITOR’S NOTE:: My apologies for the timing of this post. I had originally published it on July 22, but a misclick made it invisible to users. I didn’t notice the mistake until almost a month later. Sorry.::


Legacy is a different beast than almost every other format. Everything you do is unfair. Even the fairest of the fair in any other format would be exceptionally unfair. This is why we play Legacy – the thrill of what could happen or how to stop it from happening. It’s the format I would most recognize as the Wild Wild West of Magic the Gathering. When you sit down for a match, you know you are going to have a good time win, lose, or draw.

Right now the perceived top deck in Legacy is a deck called Deathblade. I have a long history with the deck, including building a very similar version a few months before the Invitational where it was released upon the community. Since then, I’ve taken the deck to a top eight finish at the SCG Open in Columbus. It was not all fun and games in the tournament though, and we are here to discuss the deck – why did it do so well, why I lost the games I did, and how to beat this monstrosity of a deck.

First and foremost, there are two versions of the deck. The version with Abrupt Decay I ran at the beginning of winter, and the version that only plays a single Tropical Island. There are also other, more impactful differences between the two decks besides the inclusion of Abrupt Decay.

Aburpt Decay is powerful, but is it worth zero basics?

Aburpt Decay is powerful, but is it worth zero basics?

First, the Abrupt Decay version has no basics in the deck at all! This is something that I am not a fan of. I understand that Abrupt Decay is currently one of the most powerful answers in Legacy, but cutting your basics is not the way to do it. The card being in the deck is fine, but somewhere you are going to have to make room for those basic lands. The worst way to lose in Legacy is to sit down to a match where you’ve lost before you even drew your opener. Decks like RUG Delver, Mono-Red, UR Delver, Metalworker and even Goblins are going to have a field day with a manabase with no basic lands.

You can’t dodge these decks all the time, so don’t lose the game before the game even starts. If you are going to add Abrupt Decay to the deck, cut the Wastelands for an Island, Swamp, and Plains. It will suit you well. My most common game one turn one plan in Columbus on the play was Polluted Delta into Swamp, Deathrite Shaman, go. Why? Nothing bad can happen if I can cast my spells. Reducing the impact of  Stifle and Wasteland goes a long way towards beating decks that rely on those disruptive elements. A good mana base might look like this for Deathblade these days:

This base has one extra slot. Some people like the third Underground Sea or a Savannah. I like my lands doing things for me in case I get mana flooded, so I would go with a second Creeping Tar Pit or, as I listed above, a  Dust Bowl. Dust Bowl is a long forgotten card that has the ability to dominate games if they go long. You see a lot of cards during a game with this deck so just one is fine. It’s not good for all metagames, but if you see more controlling BUG or Miracles decks, this can keep them off their mana pretty efficiently when you run out of things to do. Dust Bowl also fights other man lands, which are your hardest threat to deal with.

The next section to cover are the creatures. This is the meat of the deck, and where the heavy lifting is done. This is also where the most room for improvement and innovation is. Deathblade has an issue with playing from behind. The deck just can’t do it, no matter how good the circumstances might seem. Your only real two ways to mount a comeback, Umezawa’s Jitte and Batterskull, have been around forever. People know how to play against, around, and even through these cards. Some decks just can’t handle them, but most can just fine if they establish any foothold on the board. So what are the biggest issues with the decks creature base? Well, Dark Confidant has an issue with not being good enough when you’re  being pressured by combo decks. Also, all the non-combo decks aggressively try to punish you for playing with Bob. Now, the card has it’s merits against combo decks, but it has lots of downsides. For one, Dark Confidant is not blue. Force of Will and Bob don’t get along very well. Also, drawing two is generally very bad, and hands with three are  unkeepable. Lastly, he is not very aggressive, nor is he very defensive. Deathrite Shaman can punch through more damage, and live in combat against more creatures. The same goes for Stoneforge Mystic. Cards like Geist of Saint Traft and Vendilion Clique are more of where this deck wants to be, but have the issue of other people killing yours with theirs or them being bad in multiples. Geist does not have this issue often, but Clique does.

(Editor’s Note: This article was written just before the M14 rules change.)

Karakas, already an awesome card, is even better under M14 rules!

Karakas, already an awesome card, is even better under M14 rules!

This leads us to an interesting date. July 14th is the day that the legendary rules change. This is a big day to be a Deathblade player as Geist of Saint Traft and Vendilion Clique’s stock go up drastically. That one-of Karakas makes the above cards even better. Additionally, that Karakas is going to sticking around barring a Wasteland. No more will your Karakas get legend ruled away. Not only does this allow for some interesting pseudo-vigilance tricks, but Vendilion Clique’s ETB trigger is easier to abuse now! Another possibility for a creature that the miracle decks have adopted is Venser, Shaper Savant. That might be more of a board choice, but it’s something to think about.

So a good creature base with the upcoming rules changes in mind might look something like this:

The spells section of the deck is very straightforward. Your plan is to disrupt whatever their plan is going to be. Thoughtseizes, Inquisition of Kozilek, Swords to Plowshares, and Force of Wills are all included to mess up your opponent’s plans. The numbers can vary from deck to deck, but these are pretty much staples for every tournament you are going to unless you happen to be lucky enough to hit a Legacy Grand Prix or an SCG Invitational, both which are notoriously combo light. The addition of more green means we can add Abrupt Decay and adding Brainstorm is a no brainer!

The last cards are the ubiquitous centerpieces of the deck. Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Batterskull, and Umezawa’s Jitte. These are not the only artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers available to us though. We could play Liliana of the Veil, Garruk Relentless, Sylvan Library, or even Sword of Feast and Famine. Still, most of the time the planeswalkers are not truly helping what we are trying to do with this deck as we have plenty of one for one removal and do not need more. We also need more card drawing since we cut the Dark Confidants because of their weak position in the metagame. So, we are left with a package like this:

The maindeck is finished. Now we turn to the most important part of any Legacy deck – the sideboard. There are a bunch of cuts you make when you face certain decks because of how bad some of the cards end up being. Deathrite Shaman has no game against Miracles, Force of Wills will get you nowhere against RUG Delver, and Swords to Plowshares is not going to accomplish anything when your opponent is counting to 10. In formats like Legacy where cards like Brainstorm exist, a simple sideboard change can swing matchups wildly in or out of your favor.

Matchups in Legacy can vary drastically due to the number of decks that are viable. Cramming your sideboard with cards that are good against a wide range of opponents is probably the best bet. Narrow cards like Chill and Perish generally do not get the job done unless there are multiple decks that those cards can hit. This is especially true of Perish, which can either be useless or mandatory depending on the meta. Mass removal is something Deathblade desperately needs post-board against decks like RUG Delver, Jund, Elves, and Maverick that all want to attack you with multiple creatures and kill you quickly. Note the amount of green creatures these decks possess. When Perish is good, it’s really good.

Perish is either useless or godlike. Even this white bordered one makes Mongeese everywhere shudder!

Perish is either useless or godlike. Even this white bordered one makes Mongeese everywhere shudder!

When it comes to combo decks, you will want additional discard spells and counterspells. Many decks are leaning more towards the Leyline of Sanctity plan, so generally counterspells are a safer bet, but the fourth Thoughtseize is nothing to scoff at.

For midrange mirrors you are going to want more card advantage effects. Extra Snapcaster Mages, Sword of Feast and Famine, and the planeswalkers we mentioned earlier are a perfect fit for this type of matchup. Last up to make the sideboard are the catch-alls. Cards like Disenchant and Oblivion Ring are perfect for those problematic permanents that you will have to deal with throughout the day. For problematic spells, Surgical Extraction and Extirpate fit the bill due to your deck being generally weak to cards like Wasteland, Punishing Fire, and Life from the Loam. Here’s a sample sideboard:

This is a well balanced sideboard where you focus on a few problematic matchups and allow yourself room to grow your deck based upon what you are playing against. Unlike most formats, the Japanese one-of sideboard is very powerful in Legacy. Brainstorm and Jace, the Mind Sculptor allow you to find a lot of these cards in the matchups you need them in.

Hopefully this helps everyone understand Legacy’s so-called ‘best deck’ a little more. Goodluck to everyone at the Legacy for Duals tournament coming up July 27th at Gamer’s Gauntlet. Also, look for a few more “Backdoor to” articles before the 27th to give everyone an idea what the Legacy format looks like.

Ryan Hovis

@mxfrodo195 on Twitter