by Bryant Cook
In recent weeks decks such as RUG and BUG/Team America have been very successful, but why? They play efficient cards with crucial effects on the early turns of the game. These decks create what we call “tempo”.
noun, plural -pos, -pi [-pee]
Music. relative rapidity or rate of movement, usually indicated by such terms as adagio, allegro, etc., or by reference to the metronome.
characteristic rate, rhythm, or pattern of work or activity: the tempo of city life.
Chess. the gaining or losing of time and effectiveness relative to one’s continued mobility or developing position, especially with respect to the number of moves required to gain an objective: Black gained a tempo.
Out of these three definitions, the third one is definitely the best option related to Magic. Chess and Magic: The Gathering are both games after all. Tempo is important because it sets the tone for the entire game until something else causes a halt or change in tempo. Whether or not it’s turn one Wild Nacatl or Delver of Secrets, these creatures set an above average clock for the opponents time of death.
These creatures are above average at creating tempo because their cost is much cheaper than their power and toughness ratio. The cheaper and larger the creature, the amount of turns your opponent lives in a game becomes less and less. Most of the creatures in Magic don’t fall under the category of being larger than their mana cost. Another important thing about these creatures is that their “drawbacks” aren’t devastating to the controller. Compared to say… Flesh Reaver.
Tempo isn’t all about creatures. It’s about establishing a position where the opponent is behind considerably. While creatures are important to this concept, they’re not all of it. Magic is based around creating this position and a big part of that concept is land drops. A quick and efficient creature on turn one followed by a second turn way to stop an opponents’ land is an easy way to win a game of magic. Most of today’s Legacy tempo decks are based around that idea. With Wasteland being easily the most popular land in the format in conjunction with Stifle, it’s an easy way to keep opponents off of their mana while attacking with a cheap threat.
While we’re on the topic of lands, these tempo decks play considerably less lands than other decks due to the fact that the mana curve of the deck often ends at two.
In order to play fewer lands, cards such as Ponder and Brainstorm are necessary to assure that second and possibly third land drop. After that, the deck doesn’t hope to draw any more land. One of the interesting things about these tempo decks is that they gain card advantage by drawing less lands over the course of a single game and draw more cards that do things.
Now that tempo has been explained briefly, here are the decklists.
Team America (BUG)
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Pernicious Deed
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Go for the Throat
2 Krosan Grip
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Llawan, Cephalid Empress
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Life from the Loam
What’s successful about these decks is that they create tempo, card advantage, and apply pressure. When looking at the decks, there are plenty of good, solid cards throughout them but several really stand out as what define the decks.
Delver of Secrets, Tombstalker, Tarmogoyf, Grim Lavamancer, Lightning Bolt, Stifle, Wasteland, Hymn to Tourach, Daze, and Spellsnare.
Delver of Secrets as mentioned up above is an ideal candidate for the deck. Cheap and over-powered for its mana cost just like Tombstalker and Tarmogoyf. Anyone who has ever sat across from a Tombstalker knows how frustrating it can be due to it’s evasion. Something that hasn’t been mentioned yet about Delver of Secrets is its ability to not be chump blocked or traded with due to flying. A turn with a chump blocker allows for another turn to be alive to play their out, the fewer turns the better. Grim Lavamancer on paper is very underwhelming, but in practice is just phenomenal. Lavamancer taking away a blocker or reducing a turn that your opponent is alive by shocking them is very important. The same could be said for Lightning Bolt. Removal that can finish off an opponent after they’ve stopped an initial rush has more value than most people believe. Stifle and Wasteland were mentioned before, as easy ways to stop an opponent from gaining land drops. Although, Stifle has more value in stopping abilities such as Stoneforge Mystic, Goblin Lackey, or opposing Delvers from flipping.
Hymn to Tourach is the opposite of a Force of Will, which is fantastic. It creates card advantage in a deck with no actual card advantage. If an opponent Force of Wills and the tempo player follows with a Hymn to Tourach, the player that cast Force of Will more than likely won’t be able to create a comeback. Hymn to Tourach additionally equalizes the card disadvantage from Force of Wills that the tempo player would cast. Lastly, free counterspells with little drawbacks or tempo loss are ideal for these kinds of decks. With so few land in these tempo decks Daze is almost free because more than likely, the deck was going to miss it’s next land drop regardless. Spell Snare is just the next best counterspell at the moment due to the amount of two casting cost cards in the format.
Both of these decks are winning machines as of late, but are they as optimal as they could be? Both decks are very good – don’t get me wrong. I’m just wondering if they’re built with the proper colors.
What exactly does green offer these “tempo” decks?
While Tarmogoyf is arguably the best creature in Magic, it’s mana cost to power and toughness ratio is the best of the playable cards in Legacy. In my opinion, it’s the sole reason to even play green in these decks. I’m just unsure if Tarmogoyf is enough of a reason to play green.
Krosan Grip is really a niche card for times where Counterbalance is dominant. Now does not appear to be one of those times. Counterbalance does well every once in awhile, although these tempo decks have Spell Pierce, Spell Snare, Daze, and Red Elemental Blast post sideboard to deal with it. Making Krosan Grip really unnecessary.
Sylvan Library is a fine card against control, gaining two to three cards while becoming an upkeep Sensei’s Divining Top. Although, as a one-of Sylvan Library is really random and inconsistent for the times that it’s relevant.
Life from the Loam is great with Wasteland locking opponents out. Along with it’s synergy with Delver of Secrets, Life from the Loam is good. But like Sylvan Library, it’s very random for when it’s drawn.
Temporal Spring, no one plays this card for a reason – aside from Star City Games ringers. It was thrown in as a 60th card in one event and the person happened to do very well. Meaning people copied the list. Expect to see this slot being cut for better cards sometime soon. Its mana cost is too expensive to create the tempo that’s actually relevant. Play something else maindeck and Submerge in the sideboard.
The reasoning behind playing green isn’t that appealing when broken down. What I’m suggesting is cutting green and sadly Tarmogoyf to try something different and probably more successful.
Merge Team America and RUG into one deck.
Grixis Tempo (Revenge of the Sith)
4 Red Elemental Blast
By combining the two decks, Grixis has both the benefits of RUG (Versatile removal) and those of Team America (Discard). One problem I found with the deck is that it cares more about it’s graveyard than either of the other decks. In order to compliment its use of the graveyard, the deck is using Mental Note over the Ponder slot in Team America.
Mental Note has been Adam Barnello’s pet project as of late. I myself have been skeptical of how good it is. In Grixis I believe it has the potential to be very good. It can fill the graveyard fast enough for Tombstalker, Grim Lavamancer, and Snapcaster Mage to be incredible in the early game turning them into better tempo cards. Not to mention Mental Note’s incredible synergy with Brainstorm. With Mental Note in the deck there’s another reason to hold lands in hand without having to play one as a shuffle effect.
One thing I’m a bit unsure of is if Dismember is better than Go for the Throat. The deck doesn’t have a way to deal with large creatures such as Knight of the Reliquary. Personally, I’m playing a one/one split between the two and seeing how that works for now. The Phyrexian mana issue is less relevant in Grixis than it is in RUG, since Grixis actually plays lands that tap for black for Dismember and Surgical Extraction.
Well that’s all for this week, come back again next week! Until then, keep Storming!
Bryant Cook on MTGthesource