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Author Topic: [Article] Legacy and the Metagame Clock  (Read 9881 times)
Remington Steele
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« on: January 27, 2007, 01:06:45 am »


The metagame clock just seems so accurate in predicting decks that beat the decks in the environment (thanks to Machinus for that thread), that I thought I'd write an article on the subject.

Legacy and the Metagame Clock.

The Metagame Clock

To recap the metagame clock, we start with Aggro aka Beatdown, which are decks that involve playing and attacking with creatures until the opponent is dead. On the clock, this is at 12:00.

The obvious foil to the Beatdown deck is the Board Control (Midgame in the article above) deck, which runs cards that kill or neutralise nonland permanents, especially creatures. There are three main types of cards that qualify here: spot removal e.g. StP, Disenchant; mass removal a.k.a. sweepers e.g. Wrath of God, Nevinyrral's Disk, Tranquility; and re-usable effects (commonly permanents, although something like Hammer of Bogardan would also qualify) e.g. Lightning Rift, Tranquil Grove, Moat, Propaganda (although these last two don't destroy anything, they do have the effect of neutralising most creatures). On the clock, this is at 12:12.

The foil for the Board Control deck is the Combo deck, which generally wins in one turn following some set-up where it does little to no damage prior to that last turn e.g. Goblin Charbelcher + Mana Severance. Since it runs few or no creatures, a Combo deck has no targets for the Board Control Deck to aim at, and the Board Control deck rarely has any way of winning quickly enough to present a threat to the Combo deck. Combo also beats Beatdown because such match-ups are usually just a race to win first and Combo is faster. However, this match-up is more difficult than the Board Control match-up, because Beatdown will win if the Combo deck stalls at all. On the clock, this is at 12:24.

To beat Combo usually requires counterspells, discard or mana denial in reasonable numbers, and that gives us the next deck: the Denial (Control in the article above) deck. These decks beat Combo because they stop them from casting/resolving crucial spells, and Denial also beats Board Control because Board Control rarely has many relevant cards, and the relevant cards are easily stopped. 'Can't Play' effects e.g. Meddling Mage, Orim's Chant, Ivory Mask fit in here, as do Land Destruction e.g. Stone Rain, Wasteland, and mana denial e.g. Rishadan Port, Mishra's Helix, because the primary strategy is to prevent opponents from playing relevant spells, whether by countering them, discarding them, using effects that prevent spells from being played or keeping an opponent below the mana required to cast them in the first place. Historically, Denial decks have usually consisted of a lot of counterspells, some optional discard/mana denial, card draw, one or two very powerful sweep cards e.g. Nevinyrral's Disk and a kill mechanism that's generally hard to deal with and relatively quick e.g. Psychatog, Morphling. Classic examples abound, but the feared 'Draw-Go' decks (mono-Blue control) from different formats come to mind. On the clock, this is at 12:36.

The final decktype is Tempo (Aggro-Control in the article above), which usually runs a few threatening creatures, some Denial cards (counterspells, discard, 'can't play' effects and/or mana denial), and possibly some card draw. These decks usually run on undercosted creatures and spells, and Legacy has almost all the cheap spells ever printed, so it's no surprise that Tempo is a force to be reckoned with. Major examples of the deck in recent practice are primarily U/G based, such as Gro, UG Madness and UG Threshold decks, while Suicide Black is an older example. These decks generally beat Denial decks because they present a very fast clock while disrupting whatever meagre attempts Denial can put up to eliminate that clock, while the same disruption also gives good chances against Combo decks by stopping the Combo deck from playing whatever crucial spell needed to be played. On the clock, this is at 12:48.

This brings us back to Beatdown, which beats Tempo because it has more and/or better creatures, and doesn't care about counterspells, discard or mana denial terribly much. Beatdown also beats Denial decks by simply dropping more threats than they can reliably deal with in a short timeframe. Weenie swarm decks are particularly effective against Denial strategies.

Finally, we're back at Board Control, which beats Tempo by killing/neutralising all creatures with more redundancy than Tempo can reliably stop. That said, poor draws can cause Board Control to stall (i.e. run out of removal before Tempo runs out of threats), so this match-up is not as poor as the Aggro match-up.

To summarise, Beatdown > Tempo > Denial > Combo > Board Control > Beatdown. Generally speaking, any given deck will find that its worst matchups will be twelve minutes clockwise from itself, and its best matchups twelve minutes counterclockwise. In between those points, matchups will gradually converge until 50% is reached thirty minutes from a deck's position on the clock and on itself (the mirror).

I haven't put Combo-control as a separate archetype because such decks can be placed near the dividing line between Combo and Denial (and dividing lines are more like grey areas anyway). Likewise, Prison tends to play out as either Denial or Board Control depending on the exact cards being used, so it doesn't require a distinct archetype either.

The Clock and the Legacy Environment

A theory is only as good as its practical application, in this case to metagaming and deckbuilding in Legacy. Having established the Clock, we also need to identify the Legacy environment so we can put the theory to use, although it should be kept in mind that in a healthy environment, it's impossible to beat everything. We can use the Decks to Beat in the Proven Forum and the Environment thread in the Format and Tournament Discussion Forum as good starting points for the most likely decks. Designating a given card's place on the Clock is usually straightforward based on the card's function. Likewise, designating a deck's place on the Clock is, for most decks, relatively straightforward based on a given decklist and the proportion of cards from the different archetypes, although decks can be hybrids if they run roughly equal numbers of cards from two different places on the Clock.

Decks To Beat:
Goblins - Beatdown with some Denial (Wasteland and Rishadan Port) as well as the ability to play like Combo e.g. Piledriver + Warchief + Siege-Gang Commander + Goblin Ringleader shenanigans.
UGW Threshold - Tempo with some Board Control.
Ill-Gotten Gains combo based decks - Combo.
BW Disruption - Tempo with some Board Control (this depends on the build, though, as the two colours give plenty of options).
High Tide - Combo with some Denial.

Some not-quite-so important decks:
R/W Lightning Rift - Board Control.
Salvagers/Gamekeeper - Combo.
Angel Stompy - Beatdown with some Board Control.
Survival of the Fittest - Survival is a card advantage engine when used with Squee and Genesis, so the archetype depends on the build. Because it's quite a slow engine, it's usually Board Control, but can be built as Beatdown (TnT), or with a Combo (Wheaties, Phage) or even Denial (ATS). Life from the Loam fits into a similar category - it's an engine, not a particular decktype.

Some old classics:
The Rock (a BG deck) - Denial (Discard) and Board Control (Walls, Pernicious Deed etc.), but depends on the exact build, as the two colours allow many options, including becoming a Beatdown or Tempo deck (e.g. Macey Rock).
Reanimator - Tempo, although it can depend on the exact creature being Reanimated. Zombie Infestation builds can sometimes operate as Beatdown.
UW Control - Denial (Counters) and Board Control, but depends on the exact build, especially the redundancy of counters and/or removal.

Changing Categories - Cards, Decks and Tactics

Generally speaking, cards fit neatly into one place on the Clock. Even combo cards aren't too difficult to pick out (cards like Goblin Charbelcher and Yawgmoth's Bargain can be used for other purposes, but combo makes the best use of them), by and large. Cards that draw more cards and tutors (cards that allow library searches for particular cards) generally don't fit anywhere in particular on the Clock, but, rather, are support cards that any deck can use.

There are also some cards that can change category depending on the opposing deck. For example, Humility is a powerful board control card, but can also operate as denial if the opponent is relying on mana or utility creatures e.g. Birds of Paradise, Goblin Welder. Likewise, Burn e.g. Lightning Bolt can be directed at creatures (Board Control) or players (Beatdown), making it very versatile.

In addition to aiding the selection, tweaking and sideboard of a deck for a given tournament, the Metagame Clock can also be used to find the appropriate strategy for a given match-up. Sometimes, the best strategy is to play a given deck in a different style depending on the opposing deck. For example, when a fat aggro deck plays a weenie rush deck (both Beatdown decks), the fat aggro deck is best played as a Board Control deck because racing is difficult, whereas all the larger creatures can be used as pseudo-removal by blocking, or being blocked once they start attacking. Knowing this allows players to make the best decisions from the start with mulligan decisions, and from there, tactical play i.e. individual decisions in a game, such as blocks, attacks etc. and sideboarding.

Practical Application in Legacy

With the environment in mind, and in particular the dominance of Goblins, Board Control is currently the "best" place to be. Board Control in Legacy is mainly represented by Enchantment-based decks e.g. Lightning Rift, Seismic Assault and Sweeper decks using cards like Pyroclasm, Wrath of God and so on. Some use both e.g. Slide. Some decks also run as Board Control/other hybrids e.g. Life. Some decks can switch to Board Control to reasonable success without actually being Board Control decks as such e.g. UGR Threshold, BW Disruption.

Knowing the environment can also explain why decks such as Mono-White Control and Mono-Black Control can still be viable despite the opinions/desires to the contrary of those "in the know" - Board Control beats Beatdown and Tempo, and those are very common archetypes in most environments (Threshold and BW are the most common non-Beatdown decks, and Goblins is the most common Beatdown deck).

Taking it a step further, if Board Control is the "best" option, a deck that beats Board Control while also beating Tempo and Beatdown is that much better again, if it can be managed. That requires either hybridization of some sort or finding powerful cards that can operate in two different places on the Metagame Clock, and that's where the smart metagamer playing Legacy should go.

A hybrid is a deck with roughly equal numbers of cards from two places on the Metagame Clock. These can be adjacent e.g. Beatdown/Board Control, but it's not a requirement. Adding a combo finish to a Board Control deck with Survival is one way of proceeding (Board Control is especially susceptible to combo finishes because it often takes a long time to actually win), and another is to play something like Life, which has the infinite life combo to go with its infinite wall blockers (Board Control of a sort). Denial/Board Control hybrid decks have been played on and off in different formats for much of Magic's history, with UW Control and The Rock (BG Control) being two well-known examples. They're generally good against other Board Control decks and slower Beatdown decks, and have a reasonable game against Combo and other Denial decks, but Tempo and really fast Beatdown decks can cause them real problems.

Another possibility is the Switch deck, so-called because it switches between two different sectors on the Clock depending on its opposition. Some Blue-based decks with a lot of card quality selectors a.k.a. Cantrips can use the cantrips to draw creatures and counterspells against Denial decks and Combo decks, and sweepers against Beatdown decks. An example is UGR Threshold, which is generally a Tempo deck, but can play as a Board Control deck as well by using the (generally) larger creatures, counters and burn (especially Pyroclasm) to exhaust opposing Beatdown decks of creatures and then win. It doesn't do it as well as a dedicated Board Control deck because all the cantrips cost Tempo, and the redundancy isn't quite there, both of which slow the deck down enough to give Beatdown a fair chance of winning early. UGr Threshold is probably the best-known Switch deck, but others can be built as well.

Another place to look is cards that can operate in more than one place on the clock, depending on the match-up or even the situation. Two particularly powerful examples of these cards are Solitary Confinement and Orim's Chant, which can be both Denial and Board Control. The challenge to building decks around them is finding ways of keeping them going. For Confinement, that's often Squee, although Life From The Loam is another option, and for Chant, that's usually Isochron Scepter. Also, some sweeper cards destroy lands and creatures e.g. Jokulhaups, Obliterate, Wildfire, Devastating Dreams. Decks built around one or more of these (especially Dreams, because it's so cheap to cast) also have the ability to operate in more than one place on the clock, because they can be Denial (mana denial in this case) and Board Control at the same time. Running Life From The Loam to aid the recovery makes this another solid possibility to investigate.

Finally, this is something to allow players, especially new players, to move forward. If enough people move forward, Legacy will move forward. I don't pretend to know all the answers, or even all the questions, and there are certainly cards and archetypes that defy description on the Clock e.g. Storm, but I hope that the Metagame Clock will be useful regardless. If I've missed anything, or there are any questions, comments, suggestions or discussion and debate, I'm listening (or reading, as the case may be!). I view this as a Work In Progress, so future updates based on feedback are likely.


Many thanks to the various TMD Legacy Adepts and Moderators for their help with the article. Obviously, (Force of) Will Reiffer's articles on the Metagame Clock and SCG's archives were also very helpful, and I highly recommend reading other articles on the Metagame Clock by Reiffer.

Craig Hall
aka Godder

To discuss this article, go here.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2007, 02:01:18 pm by Bardo » Logged

Quote from: Remington Steele
That's what I like about you, Laura - you're always willing to put my neck on the line.
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