Winter is Coming

Beyond the Wall, far in the North, lies a terrible, eldritch power locked deep in the land of neverending winter. No, it is not Dragons, nor wights, nor wildlings. It is a creature far more deadly and far more inscrutable. Our most potent seers, our Deathrite Shamans and our Delvers of Secrets, all stand powerless in the face of the looming threat to our realm. The enemy rips and tears at our minds in preparation for its eventual thawing, using disruptive mind-magic to remove our few protective measures. It stops at nothing. It will employ the power of ancient vampires and their sacrifice, or it will tear a hole in the very fabric of the rules that govern the universe in order to escape. Once it is released from the rime, it will cover the world in darkness and end the hopes of a fair match of Magic.

Dark Depths
In case you’ve been living in sunny, tropical Ixalan for the last week, the above refers to a surprise (though with his recent streak of wins, is it really a surprise?) victory at Eternal Extravaganza’s Legacy event from one Eli Kassis with a vastly underrated deck, Turbo-Depths. This deck deserves far more credit than any Legacy pundits have given it, as it has a lot of the same matchups as the feared Lands archetype with a heck of a lot more speed. It does exactly one thing, and it does it very well: Turbo-Depths can create a 20/20 Marit Lage token as early as the first turn, and consistently makes one on turn three. Now, this style of deck has long existed on the fringes of the format, occasionally making inroads into the realm of commonly discussed archetypes, but the disappearance of Miracles was huge for a deck that can’t realistically beat a Terminus or a pile of Swords to Plowshares. Deeply entrenched players are used to avoiding any archetypes without the cantrip suite that has come to define Legacy (Brainstorm and Ponder), but, over the last five years, the incredible rise of Lands, Elves, and Death and Taxes (with occasional appearances from {B}{R} Reanimator and All-in Red) have shown even the most grizzled veterans that Brainstorm isn’t the only way to win in Legacy. Turbo-Depths has won an incredible amount relative to its popularity, and it’s high time that the best players start learning the play patterns that define this archetype.

Since time immemorial, our kingdom has been protected by mystical balancing forces that counter adversarial magical attacks, with a powerful, ancient gyroscope that we spin to maintain the precious balance that shields our lands from blight and keeps the evil power locked away in its icy prison. For millennia, the threat of instant annihilation at the hands of a powerful deity kept the evil in the North at bay, and we had a tenuous, but stable peace. With the security granted by the visions of the grand seer Jace, along with the defensive magic from his retinue of apprentices, the Snapcaster order, we grew in prosperity, with danger kept far away in the corners of the land. Much more concerning, even, were our students’ scholastic projects, which occasionally resulted in the accidental summoning of ancient Demons or interplanar entities. That all changed with the loss of the precious gyroscope. No longer would our protective enchantments be calibrated to counteract the sinister magic of the wild. No longer could we call upon the strength of an angry deity to bathe the horrors in purifying light. Even the power of the grand seer diminished, and dark forces dormant for millennia began growing in their hiding-holes once again.

Let’s talk history for a moment. Most contemporary Turbo-Depths lists stem from one of two places: DNSolver’s MTGO decklists, with which they have done well in a number of Legacy leagues, and Oran Kremen’s list with which he won last year’s North American Legacy Championships, seen here:


Time for a moment of complete, radical honesty. This is not a perfectly-tuned list. One Duress and two Inquisition of Kozilek is an odd split, and three Not of This World is an odd maindeck choice (though significantly more understandable with Miracles still in the format). It’s got two Expedition Maps, three Pithing Needles, and nothing but a single Sylvan Library in the entire list as card selection, but it won the entire event. What gives? Sure, it’s easy to chalk the win up to variance, but if an untuned list wins a massive event through a bad matchup (he beat Miracles several times on the way to the win), and then that bad matchup disappears from the format, surely a better-tuned list would wipe the floor with a bunch of Delver and Four-Color Czech Pile decks, while sporting a clock that can compete with Storm and Sneak and Show. Right?

We have called our best weapons to bear in the fight against this evil, one that will swallow the world if left unchecked. Few remain capable of containing the enemy, and it is not nearly enough. The force of darkness have nullifying artifacts with the curious power to halt our best defenses, and can pre-emptively pinpoint and remove the only magic we have that can possibly defeat the ancient beast. Only one strategy for our collective survival yet remains. If the certainty of death looms large, we must call the banners for an even more certain eventuality. Taxes.

Of course, Death and Taxes, as the predominant Swords to Plowshares archetype left in Legacy, is the best answer to a Marit Lage-fest gone wild. Karakas, Wasteland, and Flickerwisp are no slouches themselves at answering errant Dark Depths, and part of the reason for Turbo-Depths’ ascendance is the (small) reduction of Death and Taxes in the Legacy metagame. There are simply tons of good matchups around for Depths these days, and people aren’t packing the answers they need to be packing in nearly enough numbers, so Death and Taxes alone is the big enemy for Depths. That, plus its own consistency issues, of course. Eli Kassis’ list was the first copy of the Living Wish version to truly break through to a big tournament win, and the improved consistency of his list is one big reason.


Thoughtseize
Still with the weird Duress/Inquisition of Kozilek split! I won’t pretend to understand it, but I do know that Eli’s deck has incredible redundancy with a virtual thirteen copies of Dark Depths and virtual fifteen Hexmages/Thespian’s Stages, with eight discard spells to proactively protect the combo. In effect, what Eli has done is created a Sneak and Show-esque deck, where you lose the Blue cantrips and countermagic in exchange for the Black disruption and the ability to execute your entire combo without ever being vulnerable to countermagic. You’re like Reanimator without the vulnerability to graveyard hate like Deathrite Shaman (but worse against Wasteland) and like Lands without the Life from the Loam engine (but the thinking is, that engine doesn’t pad matchup percentages in a meaningful way in Legacy right now, and the extra speed of Turbo-Depths does pad matchups.) What do those matchups look like with this crazy deck?

Turbo-Depths, like Lands, enjoys a favorable matchup against Delver and Czech Pile decks, which together comprise a solid 20% of the Legacy metagame. Eldrazi and Elves are generally pretty favorable, barring Elves winning on turn three on the play. Storm and Sneak and Show are pure races, ones that Depths is well-equipped to win considering the relative power of its discard against those decks compared to the power of their disruption against it. Often a curve of Thoughtseize-Inquisition-Marit Lage is more than good enough, and occasionally Show and Tell “shows” a Marit Lage right into play to munch on over the top of Emrakul or Griselbrand. New Miracles is harder, considering the preponderance of Swords to Plowshares, Snapcaster Mages, Unexpectedly Absent, and the like, but a flurry of discard or a resolved Sylvan Safekeeper can still put the game away. Death and Taxes is a challenging matchup, as are Lands, the new “TwinBlade” archetype picking up steam, and the various Blood Moon decks, but with an all-in strategy like this one, you are already hoping to dodge some of the bad matchups and ride a little variance to victory. Might as well lean in and embrace it!

Swords to Plowshares
Now, it makes sense to recognize the danger in Marit Lage and to consider how best to combat the deck. If you choose to play a non-interactive combo deck, the answer is generally something in between “play bounce spells” and “good luck”. If you’re playing a Brainstorm-Deathrite Shaman deck, the answer is more complicated. To start, if you are playing White, play Swords to Plowshares. If not, play Diabolic Edicts and Snapcaster Mages, and consider Abrupt Decay for Pithing Needle if you are playing Wasteland. Also, against non-Living Wish versions of the deck, Surgical Extraction can put the nail in the coffin if you can snag a Dark Depths and get rid of all of them. You don’t need to apply a ton of pressure (so don’t worry about True-Name Nemesis, and cut those Leovolds) because once you get a few copies of answers to Marit Lage in your hand, it becomes nearly impossible for your opponent to win. Discard is fairly weak, as Depths topdecks super live all the time. Countermagic is okay, but not great, as you are only happy Force of Will-ing a Crop Rotation (and they’re not likely to blithely run a Rotation into an unknown hand, believe me.) Be cagey, be cautious, keep a working knowledge of the angles they are packing, and you can fix the matchup the same way you can fix the Lands matchup with your fair Blue midrange decks. It just takes a little extra sideboard juice, and for most players, that juice might not be worth the squeeze.

My good friend, roommate, noted team draft ringer, and the best player to have never played on a Pro Tour (though he’ll never admit it) Michael Segal has been singing the praises of Turbo-Depths as a Lands deck with a better average metagame position for some time now, and it’s only now that the world is paying attention. It might be too late now, though. Winter is coming.

Post-Script: Remembering Gadiel Szleifer

One of the first Pro Tours I remember reading about was Pro Tour Philadelphia 2005. Gadiel Szleifer, then just a kid, won the whole event, shocking the Magic world with his incredible victory over Kenji Tsumura in the finals. No one but me knew it at the time, but Gadiel contributed in his own small way to my burning desire to eventually play on the Pro Tour myself, as I’m sure he did a number of other current Pro Tour regulars. Gadiel passed away this week, a life that burned brightly all the way to its premature end. One might be inclined to draw a parallel to his Pro Tour career, which saw him knock out three PT Top 8’s in a short amount of time, then leave just as it seemed like he was hitting his peak. It’s still unlikely that he’ll be posthumously inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, but no matter. One of the beautiful things about Magic is that it does grant its star players a small measure of immortality, in that their achievements will be remembered for years after they are gone. For those of you who didn’t know about Gadiel’s achievements, take the time this week to read about his stunning victory, and pay tribute to a man who achieved a goal many of us will only ever dream of.


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