Surviving the Karnpocalypse

Hello everyone, I have finished up school and I will hopefully be back on a more regular schedule! Since the release of War of the Spark, Legacy has changed quite a bit and with a new set on the horizon, it looks like it will be in flux for a while yet. With all of this change comes changes to the decklist.

The Meta Before the War

At MF Niagara Falls, one could split the metagame into three different parts, from a sideboarding perspective. Echoing Truth and Pulverize were used as anti-prison cards, Hope of Ghirapur and the sideboard Cabal Therapy for Tundra decks, and a pair of Empty the Warrens for Delver and other control decks. Pulverize was especially key to beating multiple lock pieces. Each opposing deck played one to two types of hate that could be combated easily with discard and a bounce spell or two. In my personal list at MF Niagara Falls, I played an Abrade in my main deck to help combat prison and slow down some of the more aggressive decks in the format. The great part about that Abrade is it answered every card that interacted with The EPIC Storm that was in play. That is no longer the case.

Narset, Parter of Veils
Karn, The Great Creator

This is War!

With the introduction of Karn, The Great Creator and Narset, Parter of Veils to the format, there is a new type of card that The EPIC Storm cares about. It feels almost uncomfortable, as in past lists, there is no main deck or wish-able answer beyond Grapeshot. One of the strengths of The EPIC Storm is that there is always an answer available and there is not a great one to answer either planeswalker currently. Grapeshot is an incredibly resource intensive answer and often there will not be time to rebuild afterward or other lock pieces in play. Karn, The Great Creator is also an incredibly fast clock, with the Mycosynth Lattice lock. At the same time, it can also fetch answers to Empty the Warrens, such as Ratchet Bomb.

This leaves the list in quite the awkward spot.

Recently, there has been a trend to add more and more artifact mana to The EPIC Storm, with a fluctuating number of Mox Opal. Karn, The Great Creator (and Dragon Stompy swapping to four Trinisphere), makes this a more dangerous option over another land. This gave rise to a couple of the fourteen land and eight discard spell lists that were tested to some success.

Deck List #1


The issue that comes up with the eight discard spells is that sometimes you end up drawing too many of them. Eight discard, in theory, allows more proactive answers to most of the threats. However, the classic problem with discard is that it can not hit the top of the opponent's library. Because of this, a list with a reactive element was proposed:

Deck List #2


Main deck Chain of Vapor is a great tool that allows The EPIC Storm to do something it can only do usually post-board: react. While not the best against Chalice of the Void on one, it answers every other hate permanent and in a pinch, it can act as another storm engine by bouncing our own artifacts. Reactive answers have an interesting place in storm decks. In one of the first articles I ever read on storm, Stormboarding by Carsten Kotter, there was a line that talked about the belief that the main deck of any storm deck is perfect, "you don't actually want any sideboard at all." What this is referring to is the idea that the main deck, unimpeded does exactly everything it needs to do to win the game. In my own personal belief, the main deck of a storm deck exists to make as few cards relevant in the opponent's deck as possible. This is done by having no creatures to make removal dead, going off quickly to make cantrips too slow, and thus irrelevant, and simply being able to go over the top of cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or True-Name Nemesis. Adding a bounce spell or other removal spell to the main deck changes this theory. It is an admission that there have been so many hate permanents printed recently that relying on a discard suite is not enough. Discard spells are almost always live and do the same thing every time: take the best possible card out of the opponent's hand and are good in a large majority of match-ups. A bounce spell is different. It does little to nothing in the combo match-ups and may not even do anything against the fair decks. This is why Chain of Vapor was chosen to be the main deck bounce spell even though it does not answer Chalice of the Void on one. Its ability to be another engine is incredibly valuable at letting The EPIC Storm execute its game plan. The other interesting thing that happens when the fourth bounce spell moves to the main, is it opens a slot in the sideboard. This slot is filled by another Hope of Ghirapur, to help with the Tundra match-ups. Thinking of the list as a full 75 instead of a 60 and a 15 allows for a better overall decklist.

To expand further on this idea, let's turn to a list that has more theory than practical testing to it:

Deck List #3


Goblin Cratermaker is a funny little magic card that happens to answer Karn, The Great Creator, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Chalice of the Void at a reasonable rate within blue, black, and red. However, playing it in the main deck flies in the face of the theory written above. In almost no way, (other than attacking) does Goblin Cratermaker directly win the game or dig towards it. It turns on removal in match-ups where it would not normally be live. It is really three mana to remove anything, though two mana and then one mana is still very different than three mana spell. Clearly, there are downsides to Goblin Cratermaker, and it is an unconventional choice. But, it creates a very interesting structure for the 75. Keeping the idea that there should be four answers in the 75, having two main creates sideboard space for a pair of Tormod's Crypt. Tormod's Crypt is incredibly helpful ensuring up match-ups such as B/R Reanimator, Dredge, and ANT. Tormod's Crypt also allows for Goblin Cratermaker to be sideboarded out in combo match-ups where it is not at its best. This still leaves the question of why having Goblin Cratermaker in the main deck helps overall. Being able to attack an opponent is not incredibly useful, but attacking planeswalkers is. Goblin Cratermaker can act as two answers at the same time, to a Karn, The Great Creator and a Chalice of the Void. The other synergy with Goblin Cratermaker is with Cabal Therapy. Playing real creatures allows Goblin Cratermaker to have some utility in match-ups such as Miracles or combo.

In testing this list, I am looking at a few questions:

  • How often does Cabal Therapy being flashbacked occur?
  • Does Cabal Therapy miss too often on the first half?
  • Does Ad Nauseam fail too often by having a higher average converted mana cost in the deck?

Depending on the answers to these questions, the list would change. It's possible that Chain of Vapor is the exact right card to fill the flex spot. Or, there are new cards coming into the format that will completely change the deck.

Reconstruction

Whether or not Goblin Cratermaker works or not, the interesting part of doing this deck tinkering was working on a full 75, and thinking about changes and what that does to match-ups. Karn, The Great Creator seems like a card that is staying in Legacy and The EPIC Storm will have to figure out a way to beat it. Given some of the spoilers from Modern Horizons, the answer may just be to go under it.

Until then, keep on stormin'!


Alex McKinley

Alex McKinley is a computer scientist who loves mixing Magic: The Gathering and technology. When outside, he spends his time winning Quidditch Championships and camping.