Legacy: Cheaper Than You Realise! Week Two: Pox, and How to Build It!
Over my three years of playing Magic, I have played many different formats. The usual culprits, like Standard, Modern and Draft, but also everything from Judge Stack to Unhinged Constructed to Mental Magic. There are so many ways to play the game. Out of everything, though, my favourite format absolutely has to be Legacy.
Legacy hits the sweet spot between the incredibly powerful and game-warping cards in Vintage and the straight, linear strategies in Modern. It has incredible combo potential but also great removal suites, perfect fixing, and most importantly, excellent disruption in the form of counterspells and land destruction. It is much more a format that encapsulates really knowing the meta, reading your opponent’s plays and understanding when to act and react.
It’s saddening that many people will not experience this format in their Magic lifetimes, because they simply can’t justify the money for a deck. Legacy requires an investment if you want to play some of the most well-known decks like Delver, Storm or Shardless. The dual lands and Lion’s Eye Diamond being on the reserved list have sadly made a lot of decks unaffordable for those who don’t wish to spend a lot of money on the game.
However, I’m here to bring you the good news: this isn’t always the case.
Since the printing of Eternal Masters, which, granted, did not address the main issue, but did make some important reprints outside of the reserved list, the average price of Legacy decks has gone down a lot, and some tier 1 or tier 2 decks now cost the same amount as some Modern lists. If you think you can’t play Legacy, it might be time to think again. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to write about a few decks which are the same price as Modern lists (and, indeed, in some cases share cards with Modern), and which are not what you would call budget lists; they are exactly what people are running at GPs.
With more Legacy now approaching on the horizon with the Team Pro Tour, is it time for you to get stuck in?
Legacy Pox – The Rundown
This week, I’m going to discuss the archetype Pox. There are many different ways in which you can build this deck, but the oldest, most streamlined and cheapest way is mono-black. The archetype is named after the card Smallpox, and is centred around reducing your opponents’ resources to almost nothing so they cannot cast their spells or keep a creature in play. It’s a slow and relentless strategy similar to 8-rack in Modern.
Here is a recent decklist by Matthias Fichtl (mtgtop8.com):
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Desecration Demon
2 Nether Spirit
INSTANTS and SORC.
1 Collective Brutality
4 Dark Ritual
4 Hymn to Tourach
3 Innocent Blood
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Suffer the Past
3 Cursed Scroll
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Consume the Meek
1 Empty the Pits
4 Engineered Plague
1 Innocent Blood
2 Nevinyrral’s Disk
2 Nihil Spellbomb
The entire deck can be bought for $389-$517 depending on condition from TCGplayer – around £300-400. It’s not ‘cheap’ compared to, say, a Standard deck, but if you’re looking at buying anything in the Modern tier lists, it’s definitely in the same price range.
*(Also, a large percentage of that is just 3 copies of Liliana of the Veil, so if you already have those, you’re golden.)
In mono-black Pox, obviously, the mana base is all going to tap for black. 13 Swamps are a good starting point. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is necessary in order to allow your Wastelands and Mishra’s Factories to also tap for black, as so many of your spells require double black to cast and you have a relatively low land count in your deck.
The reason the colourless lands are necessary is because they play into your strategy. The importance of Wasteland in a mana denial deck cannot be overstated; the card is format defining for a reason, and being able to remove a troublesome land from your opponent or simply cut them off of a colour (which you can do quite regularly to the decks like Delver which have very greedy manabases) will help you a lot in the early turns. Mishra’s Factory is one of your win conditions. After you have killed all your opponent’s lands and emptied out their hand, you can begin to chip in with your 2/2 once per turn and they will be hard-pressed to stop you. Mutavaults could work as well, if you already have those.
Due to cards like Smallpox which are symmetrical effects, the deck doesn’t run very many actual creatures. This particular build has four – two Desecration Demons and two Nether Spirits.
Nether Spirit is handy in this deck because it’s always coming back. You will frequently be sacrificing creatures or discarding them to your own effects, so when you have one that consistently returns to the battlefield for free, it can add to your clock significantly and also produce a pretty decent blocker if your opponent is managing to mount some pressure.
Desecration Demon is an odd choice and not one I have often seen in lists. The inclusion, I believe, is to shorten the clock and provide a big threat for your opponents to deal with, however, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend putting these in, as it’s rare to find yourself ever having four mana in this type of deck. More often, if they want this type of threat, decks will run Tombstalker, as you can delve and cast it for two mana, removing cards you don’t want in your graveyard and potentially also irritating your opponent who is trying to make mana from their Deathrite Shaman. I believe in this case it was a clever meta call by the owner of the deck, so use caution if you decide to play these.
Instants and Sorceries
Now we get onto the bulk of the deck. Essentially, Pox’s strategy is very similar to its Modern cousin 8-Rack; remove your opponent’s lands so they can’t cast anything, remove their hand piece by piece, and then slowly kill them.
All of the spells here aim to add to that strategy, and many of them offer very powerful effects compared to their Modern counterparts:
Dark Ritual is in the deck in order to power out spells on those crucial turns. Playing a turn one Liliana of the Veil is an insanely powerful play, but sometimes you will want to wait until turn two to get two double-black discard spells off in a turn. It also helps when you have sacrificed lands to Smallpox to be able to play some of your top-end cards. It’s all round just a very powerful spell and it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t run it.
Hymn to Tourach is one of the best discard spells in Legacy, and that’s because it has the word ‘random’ on it. Your opponent only has two lands in hand and you manage to hit them both with this on turn one or two? Close to game over, unless they draw some more very quickly afterwards. Not to mention you get two cards for one of yours. Hymn is a very potent card in this deck, and the disadvantage of not getting to know your opponent’s hand will likely be outweighed by the advantage you get from them losing two cards.
Inquisition of Kozilek is included over Thoughtseize mainly because most of the cards in Legacy that you care about as a Pox player are under three mana, and you want to save your life total. However, meta dependent (if there’s a lot of Eldrazi Aggro or Jace decks in your LGS) it might be worth throwing a Thoughtseize or two into the mainboard instead.
Innocent Blood is included as your protection against creatures. You barely run any creatures at all, and those you do come back from the graveyard like Nether Stalker, so it hardly ever affects you, but against decks like Lands with their Marit Lage tokens, Show and Tell who have put an Emrakul in play without casting it, or even decks like Delver that just want to ride a 3/2 flier to victory, it is absolutely crushing. Though it’s situational (if you’re against Death and Taxes, or Elves for example where they tend to flood the board) if you can get ahead early this card will almost always be good.
Sinkhole is included to kill your opponent’s lands. Along with Wasteland and Smallpox, that’s twelve potential lands gone from your opponent’s deck, and most Legacy decks don’t even run that many mana producing lands thanks to fetches. It’s so easy to cut someone off a colour and run them out of the game with constant mana denial, so Sinkhole is a crucial part of maintaining your control of the game.
Collective Brutality is another easy way to do all of the above. It deals with pesky Deathrite Shamans very cleanly, can bait out counterspells early or simply take them away, and helps you take a turn back off the clock against aggressive decks with life gain.
Smallpox, the deck’s namesake, does all of these things for the low price of two mana. Your opponent loses a land which potentially cuts them off a colour or a particular spell, a creature they spent a turn casting, a card out of the few remaining in their hand and a life point, and although you’re losing a life point and a land as well, your lands are much more disposable as you have built your deck to run on a very low curve and with only one colour. You likely won’t have any creatures, and if you have cards in your hand, they’re all very similar redundant effects. This card, like all ‘symmetrical’ effects, is really not very symmetrical at all!
Finally, there are two Suffer the Past. This is, again, an interesting inclusion as it’s not a particularly common card, but I can definitely see the appeal. The ‘delve’ aspect of the spell means that you can make use of your graveyard (which will be extensive very quickly) and it shortens your clock considerably while buffering your life total as well, which will help against aggressive lists or combo decks.
Other cards I have seen in these flex slots include extra copies of Thoughtseize/Inquisition effects, Fatal Pushes, Beseech the Queen, Toxic Deluge for the bigger board states and sometimes even Bloodghast or Crucible of Worlds for wacky outlier strategies. The deck is very versatile around the main discard/mana denial engine, so you are free to include the spells that work best for you.
Liliana’s inclusion is obvious. She can be cast on turn one off Dark Ritual, she’s difficult to kill, she removes your opponent’s cards and creatures in synergy with the effects in your hand – have a Fatal Push? tick her up; have a Thoughtseize? tick her down – and her ultimate can be game breaking, especially when your opponent will be on very few permanents for most of the game anyway.
Cursed Scroll is a handy tool for shortening your clock and providing inevitability. Artifact hate is usually not found mainboard since Divining Top’s ban, and so it’s unlikely to be removed compared to a creature. Simply keep one card in hand, discard or play the other and it’s a guaranteed Shock to the face every turn – or to any troublesome creatures that show up. Innocuous as it may seem, this card is a powerhouse when played correctly.
A lot of your sideboard consists of reset buttons which you can press when things get out of hand. Pox struggles when its opponent manages to stick some permanents, so against creature heavy decks it can be difficult to get out of the gate before they land too many weenies.
Consume the Meek and Engineered Plague are there for that reason and that reason alone. They are great against Elves, Death and Taxes, Goblins and, post-board, against Storm which is likely to try and go off quickly with an Empty the Warrens to avoid your discard spells and overwhelm you before you can gain control.
Extirpate is for the combo decks. Since you don’t have counterspells, you have to use this kind of method to extract the cards before your opponent can go off. Generally, you will be using it in combination with Inquisition or Thoughtseize to remove a combo piece from your opponent’s deck, but it can also be used in response to a Lands player trying to Life From the Loam back a Dark Depths, a Reanimate targeting a Griselbrand, or a Storm player casting Past in Flames, to remove the problem cards. Surgical Extraction fills this spot just as well, if you aren’t worried about counterspells.
Nihil Spellbomb will also be used for graveyard hate decks, but it’s much more effective as a deterrent to Storm, Dredge, Loam decks and Reanimator. They will be less likely to play out their deck early if you land a Spellbomb, which gives you time to set up shop and start gaining control. Additionally, it can be used to shrink Tarmogoyfs and render Deathrite Shamans useless, if necessary. Sometimes you will find that some maindeck cards aren’t great in a particular matchup, so there is a lot of room for boarding in cards like this to slow down your opponent’s strategies.
Another Innocent Blood adds to your creature removal package, though sometimes the fourth copy will be maindeck.
Onto the more ‘meta’ cards:
Empty the Pits is, like Tombstalker, a great way to make use of your graveyard, and can be a fantastic way to turn around an unfavourable boardstate. However, it’s very expensive at 4 mana, so only run this if you really feel like you need to turn the clock around. There are probably better options for your sideboard than this.
Nevinyrral’s Disk is an odd inclusion. The key part is that it kills enchantments and artifacts as well as creatures, and usually your deck doesn’t handle those very well if they make it onto the battlefield. If your opponent is on some sort of MUD deck and your land denial isn’t the best, you can still keep on top of their mana by killing their Grim Monoliths. It also handles Sneak Attack, Counterbalance, Food Chain and Aluren very effectively, and absolutely decimates Enchantress decks. Again, though, this is meta dependent because it is a very slow and expensive answer. Most people will not be running this.
Finally, two Swamps. It’s possible that in the slower games you may run out of lands due to your own effects, and sometimes Wasteland won’t be very effective if you are playing against a deck that runs mainly basics, so you can opt to include these to give yourself better fixing in the early turns. This is a very big meta call though.
Other cards that are sometimes included in sideboards:
- Ensnaring Bridge for creature matchups
- Pithing Needle for almost anything
- Leyline of the Void/Helm of Obedience for an alternative win condition (and extra graveyard hate)
- Ratchet Bomb if you expect artifacts you can’t handle, or wide board states
- Night of Souls’ Betrayal for more creature interaction
- Surgical Extraction for Extirpate if you aren’t worried about counterspells
And there you have it; Pox! A time-honoured and age-old Legacy strategy which, although relatively cheap to make, can still pack a real punch. If you are interested in learning more, there is a primer available here (note that it is from 2016).
If this deck isn’t for you, then tune in next week where hopefully I will be writing about something more to your taste. There is a deck for everyone in Legacy, and plenty more affordable than people think!
Thanks for reading my article and I hope you enjoyed it!