Building Legacy CounterTop
Grand Prix Columbus is coming up. What should you play? What factors even go into deciding what deck you play? The biggest factors to consider are your level of comfort with the deck and whether or not the deck has the highest percentage against the largest percent of the field. Being nut-drawn in legacy could mean dying on turn one, so each percentage point you can control is very valuable (especially with GPs of more than 2,000 people).
Let's start by taking a look at the Legacy metagame. As a quick sidenote about Legacy, because of the large cardpool, the metagame is extremely diverse, competitive, and fluid. The elusive "best deck" is always changing, but to get the best idea you should start by looking at recent tournament results. GP: Madrid was the biggest magic tournament ever and happens to be the relevant format. The Top 8 was 3 zoo decks, 2 ANT decks, 2 Countertop (NO-P), and a Reanimator deck which took it all down. Looking at results since then, in 3 SCG Legacy events, there has only been one Zoo deck across 3 top16's, with combo decks running rampant. Merfolk has had some presence as well, but the success rate for Merfolk and zoo players is consistently lower than the success rate for Combo/CounterTop players. There has also been a recent resurgence in Goblins, which I consider mono-red combo, but it didn't have an outstanding performance at Madrid (due to its bad Zoo matchup). 43 Lands has also been picking up steam as a deck of choice, but it is a difficult deck to play and hasn't been putting up impressive results recently (also folds to most combo decks in game 1).
The current metagame looks like it is playing out like this:
On top: Combo (Reanimator, ANT, Belcher, Goblins)
Second tier: Control (Countertop varients, the New Horizons deck, MBC, Landstill)
Not so hot: Tempo/Aggro-Control (Team America, Fish)
Decks I would avoid: Aggro (Mono-Red, Zoo, G/B Rock Varients)
Assuming I am right in my estimation of the metagame, Aggro decks have fallen out of favor, while combo and control will continue to run rampant for the summer season. The way to put up the best numbers against combo and control is to either kill them before they do anything relevant or play lots of disruption and lots of card advantage to control any impact they try to have on the game. I'll take you through the deck building process for the latter strategy.
The best 2-card control combo in Legacy right now is Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top. The ability to completely lock your opponent out of spells for the rest of the match is nothing to scoff at. We now have an archetype we want to work with. Because of the power-level of some Legacy cards, some spells are immutable as 4-ofs in certain archetypes (Brainstorm, Force of Will, Sensei's Divining Top, Counterbalance, Tarmogoyf). Tarmogoyf is an auto-include in decks that want to grind out long matches, as he is mana-efficient, hard to remove, and when your plan isn't going well (Qasali Pridemage have your Counterbalances on edge), he grows bigger as a result. Our Core:
Because we are trying to prey on combo/control decks, it is likely that we will be playing some number of Daze as well. We currently have between 21-24 cards. Assuming around 20 lands, we have almost 20 slots and lots of colors to work with! To decide our splash, consider the options that each color gives you. Most Countertop decks these days have white for access to Swords to Plowshares and Rhox War Monk. These are cards that are geared towards beating Wild Nacatl and Silvergill Adept or any other random creature turning sideways towards you. Red brings Fire/Ice and Lightning Bolt to the table, but chances are we won't be burning our opponent out or trying to race them. Firespout is a very strong card in Legacy that cannot be ignored, but again, we aren't looking for percentage against creature decks. Black gives us access to cards like Dark Confidant and Thoughtseize, which are the best disruption/card advantage cards in Legacy, but at the expense of your other resource (life). If we are looking to destroy the best decks in the format, it seems like black is the way to go.
Obviously, we have a few more slots to work with still. What happens when we don't have the Counterspell or the Thoughtseize? Every Legacy deck that plans on interacting with its opponent needs some kind of removal. In a format where Artifacts can be as threatening as a 2 mana 6/7, catch-all removal is at its premium, and Maelstrom Pulse fits well. With Dark Confidant, we need to keep our curve low, but our spells must still be effective. Stifle is a great example of a card that fits ours needs. Stifle is a total blowout on a high storm count spell or an opponents fetch land. With Daze in the deck, early Stifles on fetch lands in combination with your own Wastelands can take an opponent out of the game quicker than they expected. Between wasting your opponents lands and having your own wasted, mana can also be hard to come by in Legacy. With anywhere between 14-23 lands in most decks, your own Dazes can sometimes keep you off your big spells, especially when having to worry about your opponents Daze's too!
As far as fleshing out numbers, Blue cards are generally fine as a 4-of because of their utility with Force of Will, whereas a card like Sensei's divining top might not be as good in multiples. Pulse's high casting cost and sorcery speed also leaves us shy of our goal in the removal area. Thankfully, no one plays irrelevant creatures in legacy, so Edicts can have a lot of value. Reanimator decks are also shifting towards more Inkwell Leviathans and less of everything else, and if Diabolic Edict isn't the best answer, I don't know what is!
This is 37 cards and starting to shape up pretty well. I believe it was Zvi that was quoted years ago to the effect of "If it costs 5 or more mana and doesn't win the game by itself, it isn't worth playing." Yeah, well, thankfully Planeswalkers are in eternal formats nowadays. Top that deck off with a couple 4-mana Jace, the Mind Sculptor and were good to go.
Really though, Jace picked up support throughout extended season becoming the deciding factor in U/B combo mirrors. In other matchups, opponents rarely have multiple creatures on the board in Legacy, and being able to Unsummon is so relevant it's absurd. Especially after you stick a counter-top to lock their creatures off the table.
Have you ever brainstormed without having to cast Brainstorm?? Untap with this guy on the table and I'm pretty sure the deal is sealed.
I played this deck at a SCG 5k a few months ago, and started out 3-0. My only losses on the day were to Dredge. This brings us to the next relevant section, the sideboard. We have 15 slots to fill, and the best way to determine your sideboard is tuning to specific metagames. For the next month or two, I am expecting a lot of combo/control. This is the sideboard I would sleeve up:
While our Game 1 should be good against these decks, we definitely need extra insurance against their sideboard cards. The most important cards in the countertop mirrors are
The next important matchup is Reanimator. This is the deck with the biggest target on its head at the moment. Turn 2 Inkwell Leviathan is pretty scary, especially with Force backup. The important thing to recognize about Reanimator is that the deck throws away card advantage in exchange for power. Mystical Tutor, Careful Study, Entomb, and Force of Will are all areas to potentially gain an advantage. In my experience, the only spells you want to counter are Reanimate effects (when you don't have an edict or a pulse). Dark Confidant really has the potential to bury Reanimator in Card Advantage, and I don't think this matchup is losable. By the way, enjoy your Wastelands and stifles, because they only play 17 lands!
ANT (Ad Nauseum + Tendrils) is another popular and powerful deck. It's level of difficulty makes it less common than something like Goblin Charbelcher, but it is important you are prepared to battle against both! In Game 2, it is important against ANT that you remember that their life total is a resource they need as well. Early beats from a Goyf with a duress effect will sometimes win the game by itself.
Belcher will usually bring in some number of Xantid Swarms against you, so don't skimp on removal post-board. Early pressure isn't as relevant here, because if you can fizzle them once, you have 8 or so turns until they can do anything again.
Goblins is a scary deck. It has the potential to kill you on turn 3 or 4 out of nowhere. Game 1 isn't great for you, especially on the draw, but post-board we have some goodies for them. Even though Aether Vial is usually their only relevant artifact, we need Krosan Grip so that we can effectively Countertop lock them out of the game. Stifle does stop Wasteland activations, but your other cards are just more important in this matchup. Thoughtseize is also strong, but between matron/ringleader, you end up hurting yourself more than your opponent.
Merfolk is another scary deck. The fact that it is relatively inexpensive makes it a popular choice in Legacy, and its ability to vomit creatures onto the table is only rivaled by Goblins. Game 1 isn't favorable, but Pernicious Deed is basically unbeatable from the Merfolk perspective. Again, Vial is strong enough that it alone warrants bringing in your Krosan Grips. Your emphasis shouldn't be countering their spells, but just playing brute force control. You should be able to take over the game through card advantage alone. Don't forget that when you Threads of Disloyalty their Lord of Atlantis, their merfolk still islandwalk!
The final matchup I'm going to talk about is Zoo. Similar to Merfolk and Goblins, Zoo is accessible and rampant because of the low cost to port it from Extended. This is a bad Game 1 matchup, but postboard we have lots of cards for them. None of their cards generate any card advantage, so try to trade 1-for-1 as often as possible while protecting your lifetotal. Dark Confidant seems scary, but the extra cards he generates are often enough to win the game. Countertop locks are also extremely effective against Zoo.
Keep in mind that Countertop has some very complicated interactions and I don't recommend playing this deck in a tournament tomorrow; however, if you have time to test with it and get comfortable with the deck, this is a real killer that you should watch out for in the next few months!
Also, if anyone is excited by cool potential interactions check this out! Vengevine in Legacy! Casting Intuition to vomit haste creatures into your yard seems awesome! Also seems pretty cool in a U/G madness deck. Everyone loves Circular Logic and Wild Mongrel, right? Using Wild Mongrel to pitch some number of Vines before casting Rootwalla for free and reanimating your whole yard just seems like a blast!