Aug 9, 20183723 views

Gang Green

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It isn’t often that I find a Constructed deck that I both enjoy playing and feel that I can play proficiently. So after performing moderately well with the Gb Ghalta deck at both Pro Tour Dominaria and Grand Prix Pittsburgh, I was very excited to see what new tools M19 would bring the deck. After reading the spoiler, I was pretty disappointed. Several people messaged me about the possibility of Thorn Lieutenant being the two drop that the deck needed, but I just couldn’t see it at first glance. Others pointed out the possibility of Vine Mare being a player, but I did not feel the deck needed a four drop that could be blocked by anything and killed by half the things. To be honest, the only new cards that somewhat peaked my interest were a reprint in Reclamation Sage and the new planeswalker Vivien Reid. As it turned out even though the deck didn’t get much of a boost from M19, I found myself back in bed with the biggest legend with the littlest arms; locking into the deck roughly two weeks before the Pro Tour.
Since this event essentially forced Team Massdrop to split into three separate testing groups, one for each format: Standard, Modern, and Legacy, we looked outside of our team to recruit other players to assist us in our testing. The primary testers of the Ghalta deck for this Pro Tour were myself, fellow Massdrop East teammate Tommy Ashton, and DC local and King of Mortgages Brendan McKay.
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Don't mess with the OGs of Gang Green.
Here is the deck I landed on for the 25th Anniversary Pro Tour in Minneapolis:
13 Forest 4 Woodland Cemetery 4 Blooming Marsh 3 Hashep Oasis 3 Greenbelt Rampager 4 Llanowar Elves 3 Resilient Khenra 4 Scrapheap Scrounger 3 Thrashing Brontodon 4 Steel Leaf Champion 3 Rhonas the Indomitable 3 Ghalta, Primal Hunger 1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship 4 Heart of Kiran 4 Blossoming Defense
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship 2 Nature's Way 3 Hour of Glory 1 Karn, Scion of Urza 1 Nissa, Vital Force 2 Vine Mare 2 Vivien Reid 1 Naturalize 1 Thrashing Brontodon 1 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
I ended up with a 9-5 individual record with the deck at the Pro Tour. I consider myself a below-average constructed player at the Premier Play level, so this result was quite good for me. I’d like to preface this article with a note that much of the material here was taken from the Ghalta portion of our testing logs, with major contributions from the aforementioned Tommy and Brendan, as well as Massdrop pros Jon Stern and Mark Jacobson who also brought some variation of the deck to Minneapolis. Going into the Pro Tour we did not think the deck had many (if any) bad matchups. The deck had the best and most regular nut draws in the format – I was able to cast Ghalta on turn three twice during the Pro Tour - and the deck has the staying power to win long games as well. Due to the mana and tempo advantage of Llanowar Elves the deck can win games without hitting its fourth land drop. If you flood on lands you have mana sinks like Resilient Khenra, Rhonas the Indomitable, and Hashep Oasis to make use of the extra resources. The deck has resilient threats that get very diverse post board. Thrashing Brontodon gives you answers to difficult to interact with decks like God Pharaoh’s Gift, while still keeping up pressure and only having to leave open one mana (two if you want to protect with Blossoming Defense).
A few notes on cards we were considering
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The Two Drops: If there is one certainty with the Gb version of the deck it’s that Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger are the best two drops, but the deck wants 2-4 more to help maintain the deck’s velocity if it doesn’t have Llanowar Elves in its opening hand. Coming out of Pro Tour Dominaria, it was clear to us that Resilient Khenra was heads and shoulders above Merfolk Branchwalker in this spot. Although we never tested it, we theorized that even the Planeswalker Deck common Terrain Elemental was better than Branchwalker since Elemental crews Heart and Skysovereign 100% of the time and the possibility of casting a 2/1 for two mana was just so awful.
Which brings us to Thorn Lieutenant. Given my initial reaction when reading the spoiler, I was shocked to see four copies of Thorn Lieutenant in the successfully performing decks. It doesn’t crew Heart, doesn’t do much in terms of ramping to Ghalta, doesn’t hit hard, the 1/1 elf it leaves behind is mostly irrelevant, and since the Ghalta deck wins through haymakers as opposed to grinding, the six mana pump ability felt out of place and difficult for the deck to optimize.
So one of the first questions we needed to answer was “Lieutenant or Khenra?” We did extensive testing of both and landed on the side of the Amonkhet jackal. In the mirror Khenra is miles better letting you attack for large amounts in spots where you’d otherwise be trading or have to pass the turn. Against red-based decks, Khenra lets your Scrapheap Scroungers attack past Goblin Chainwhirler. Against control decks, Khenra comes back out of the graveyard as a legitimate threat for a one-time, six mana investment as opposed to six mana each turn. Khenra crews Heart of Kiran the turn it comes out, and it also lets you attack with Rhonas much more often. There’s obviously value in Lieutenant’s pump ability, but too often it’s just a 2/3 for two and that’s not good enough in a deck that is interested in casting 4/4 fliers for two mana and 5/4 with evasion for three mana, and turn four 12/12 tramplers. The targeted ability isn’t entirely irrelevant, but most decks can ignore a 2/3 so it often is.
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A few non-believers still wanted to try Thorn Lieutenant for themselves!!!
Side note: In the last round of the PT I was paired against a Japanese player in the mirror. After the match we exchanged decks and checked out what the other was playing. I noticed he was running Thorn Lieutenant and asked what he felt about the card after 14 rounds of Pro Tour play. His answer: “Hate!”
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Vine Mare: We shut the door on this card in the main deck fairly early, but ended up with two in the sideboard with the assumption that Grixis decks would be a significant portion of the metagame. From a main deck standpoint, sometimes you’re on the back foot and are playing it to trade with a two or three mana creature on the other side of the board and that’s not where you want to be with this deck. While tested well in the early weeks vs Grixis, the decks started packing more Essence Scatters and Gearhulks so Mare was not the unstoppable threat it might have been against the UB decks of last season. Also Grixis decks were starting to play sweepers like Sweltering Suns, Yahenni’s Expertise, and even Hour of Devastation to combat Vine Mare. That being said, it is still a way to turn on Rhonas indefinitely, and that’s pretty awesome. And it was a sideboard card vs Zombies which we thought some team might have broken for the Pro Tour. (Also note we tried siding it in again RB decks thinking the hexproof part would be good, but it lines up embarrassingly against Chainwhirler.
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The fourth Blossoming Defense: At Pro Tour Dominaria we only chose to play three Blossoming Defense in the main deck and the fourth in the sideboard. Going into PT25A, we found this card to be extremely well positioned. It is the best card in your deck against Grixis, and fantastic against all the red decks especially with the uptick of Unlicensed Disintegration. It almost always trades up on mana, and sometimes by a lot. Even in the matchups where some number get sided out it’s fine. In the mirror there are a lot of situations where you are blowing them out by trading it for their Heart of Kiran or Steel Leaf in ground combat. It pops off Seal Aways and some Cast Outs against UW. It was an easy decision to main deck the full complement of the card.
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Skysovereign, Consul Flagship: The boat took up one of our main deck flex spots that we were constantly tweaking throughout testing. Many versions of our test decks did not include any boats, and I think it was a difficult card for people to evaluate. It’s expensive and doesn’t necessarily contribute to the explosive starts this deck is trying to set up. However, time and time again I’d find myself being bailed out of disadvantaged board positions with it. It almost always was a 2 for 1, if not more, and is a very difficult card for most decks to deal with if they don’t have removal for it. We included one in the main deck since we expected RB to be well represented and it matches up very well with Rekindling Phoenix and attacked Chandra. Having one in the main deck also hedges against random creature decks like GW cats, WB knights, and zombies.
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Vivien Reid: At first I was a bit cold on this card since the minus ability seemed very narrow to me, but the more and more I sided it in I began realizing it was extremely useful in several matchups. Picking off a Search for Azcanta or Arguel’s Blood Fast and then making your control opponent have to spend a Vraska’s Contempt to kill it before it draws you too many cards is really really good. Slamming down a Vivien after they play Nicol Bolas or Gearhulk helps green get back into games. It was so impressive that in the days leading to the Pro Tour we started testing it in the main deck over Skysovereign. Although we landed on the boat, I’m sure there is some meta where having Vivien main could be correct.
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Karn, Scion of Urza: Karn has been great out of the sideboard. This deck takes advantages of the Constructs better than any deck in the format outside of artifact themed decks. It comes in vs any slow decks and gives you a low cost planeswalker to get under the countermagic of the control decks.
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Nature’s Way: The addition of Nature’s Way in the sideboard happened quite late in our testing process, and was a direct adjustment to the increasing presence of the mirror. In prior events we never expected Gb Ghalta to be a large portion of the field since most people were not taking it seriously as a tier 1 deck. Hour of Glory is still great in the mirror, but often times mirror games come down to one deck running over the other. Nature’s Way is a way to mitigate that. Also being able to Nature’s Way to have your Rhonas hit the opponent’s Ghalta is pretty sweet.
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Crushing Canopy vs Naturalize: Our final list included one Naturalize with zero Crushing Canopy, a card we previously had two of in the sideboard. The main reason for this is the introduction of Vivien Reid. Although the planeswalker costs more, she is much more flexible as a sideboard card coming in against several matchups. There was also a downtick in white decks playing both enchantment-based removal and large flyers, so the need for Canopy lessened.
Matchups:
RB Chainwhirler
Unlicensed Disintegration is really good against Ghalta. The more they play, the worse things are. Conversely, this is another reason we upped the Blossoming Defense count to 4. If you’re able to play around Unlicensed, you can turn a game winning play by them into game over for 1 mana.
Game 1 is typically a race, and we found that post board it usually is as well. The long game is usually a problem for green because RB has targeted removal for most of our threats, and the top end of their curve (Phoenix, Glorybringer, Chandra, Hazoret) will grind down the green deck.
The positive is that green’s creatures are bigger and better than theirs. Rhonas and Skysovereign are big problems for them. Chainwhirler gets Elves, but they’ve already done a lot of their damage by that time and the 3/3 first strike body only lines up well with Scrapheap and that can be temporarily fixed with Khenra. Be considerate before using your Blossoming Defenses to push through. It may be the right play, but sometimes you’re better of protecting something else from a removal spell later.
+1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship +3 Hour of Glory (+2 on play) +1 Nissa, Vital Force -3 Thrashing Brontodon -1 Scrapheap Scrounger (-2 on draw)
Grixis Control
To clarify we used “Grixis Control” to describe decks that are essentially UB splashing Bolas. Maybe a few red removal spells, but no Chandras, Glorybringers, and certainly no Chainwhirlers.
We were pleasantly surprised at how well this matchup went in testing. UB was a challenging matchup for this deck previously, but the addition of red seemed to slow them down. And if they play red removal spells over Cast Down, they’re at a further disadvantage. Blossoming Defense is just backbreaking vs them, and often times games came down to whether green had the Defense or not. However, the matchup turns distinctly into their favor if they are able to bridge the gap and untap with a Scarab God or get Liliana and Nicol Bolas planeswalkers going.
+1 Nissa, Vital Force on the Play +1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship on the Draw +2 Vivien Reid +2 Vine Mare +3 Hour of Glory +1 Karn, Scion of Urza -3 Greenbelt Rampager -3 Thrashing Brontodon -3 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Ghalta Mirror
The increase in this deck’s popularity is why we added the 4th Ghalta to the sideboard. It’s the most important card in the matchup followed by Heart of Kiran followed by Rhonas.
+2 Nature’s Way +1 Ghalta, Primal Hunger +3 Hour of Glory +1 Thrashing Brontodon -1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship -4 Scrounger and -1 Elephant on Draw -3 Elephant and -2 Scrounger on the Play -1 Blossoming Defense
UW and Esper Control
This is a matchup that I struggled with throughout all of my testing, but Matt Lackey, one of the people we collaborated with, found a successful strategy vs the UW and Esper control matchups. Here are his thoughts on how to play vs them:
“The green stompy deck is a heavy favorite against the UW deck and a slight favorite against Esper decks. The way you beat the Teferi decks is non-intuitive and the games pre and post-sideboard play out differently enough that it's almost like two matches. Having said that I went 6-1 against Teferi decks at the RPTQ and my overall match win % against Teferi decks online was ~75% over a medium sized sample.
Philosophy of the match:
The most important thing to understand about UW is that their cards cost too much. Most of the UW lists we were playing against had ~3 Settle, ~4 Cast Out, and some number of Glimmer and Hieroglyphic Illumination. They compensate for this by playing wildly impactful cards that let them catch up on mana (Settle, Teferi, and Gearhulk.) The goal of the matchup is to never let them catch up on mana.
Game 1:
In game 1, your goal is to establish an early board presence (hopefully through Heart and a driver) and start beating in as fast as you can until they pass the turn with Settle mana up. As soon as this happens, you're going to immediately shift into a grinding strategy. You should never attack with more than 1 creature into open Settle mana, and if you don't have Blossoming Defense you should play your Brontodons in main phase A to make sure that they can't efficiently cast Seal Away or punish your single creature attack with a cast out. One thing to be mindful of is how robust your board is to Fumigate. While most of the lists are skimping on Fumigates, you should try to assemble a board with Scroungers, Rhonas, vehicles, and creatures that you're ok with dying. A board of 3 Steel Leaf Champions or Ghalta, Steel Leaf, Brontodon will let them Fumigate very profitably and invalidate this strategy.
When they play Teferi, he becomes your primary target unless you are able to attack for lethal with some backup (Brontodon or Blossoming Defense.) If this deck untaps with Teferi, they will be able to start playing multiple spells a turn and invalidate your strategy. He is always Kill on Sight. If you have the option to play something on your 5 other than Skyship (e.g. Khenera + Rhonas activation) you should do that instead of playing Skyship. Skyship is not at its best in this matchup, but getting the last couple points in against Teferi can be nice.
One last note-- Rhonas is an absolute beast in this matchup. He allows you to make weird single-creature attacks that can still punish their life total. Do not run your Rhonas into a Disallow or Essence Scatter if you can avoid it.
Game 2:
Things actually get better after you sideboard. You get to bring in more enchantment removal (that doubles as a way to beat Lyra) and planeswalkers. Your goal in games 2 and 3 is to actually play into the strategy that we tried to avoid in game 1. Give them the right price to Settle the Wreckage (but don't get blown out if you can avoid it-- this could look like attacking with a Khenra and a Steel Leaf into 4 open mana) if it allows you to stick Nissa, Karn, or Vivien. If you play a Karn, immediately use the minus ability. They'll likely have to answer on their turn (Cast Out or Teferi activation) so you don't get a second activation and you want to generate value to put them on the back foot.”
+1 Karn, Scion of Urza +2 Vivien Reid +1 Nissa, Vital Force +1 Thrashing Brontodon +1 Naturalize +2 Vine Mare -3 Ghalta, Primal Hunger -1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship -1 Blossoming Defense -3 Greenbelt Rampager
Mono Red
This matchup is generally favorable if they are not able to combine Soul Scar Mage with lots of non-combat sources of damage. Hedge your play on the defensive side until you can land an active Rhonas or Ghalta. Post sideboard games are a bit different as their plan is to go bigger with Phoenixes and Glorybringers.
+3 Hour of Glory +1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship +1 Ghalta, Primal Hunger +1 Nature’s Way -3 Thrashing Brontodon -1 Rhonas the Indomitable -2 Scrapheap Scrounger
UW Gift
Brontodon shines pretty big here. You’re able to get an early board advantage and completely stymie their ability to turn the corner with a single Brontodon out. Don’t overextend as they often play Fumigate and/or Settle main deck. Postboard the matchup becomes similar to UW Control, except they have a lot of creatures you don’t care about instead of counterspells.
+1 Naturalize +1 Thrashing Brontodon +1 Vivien Reid +2 Hour of Glory +1 Nissa Vital Force -4 Blossoming Defense -1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship -1 Ghalta Primal Hunger
Mono U Artifact Storm
Ghalta should be a big favorite here. Steel Leaf Champion is extremely problematic for a deck full of low power creatures and the main deck Brontodons help keep their problem artifacts off the board. Make sure to keep up Blossoming Defense for their Baral’s Expertise.
+1 Thrashing Brontodon +2 Vivien Reid +2 Nature’s Way +1 Naturalize -1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship -3 Greenbelt Rampager -2 Resilient Khenra
Bonus: Turbo Fog
Sadly the deck as we built it for the Pro Tour is quite weak to the Nexus of Fate fog deck. I played against Turbo Fog once at the Pro Tour and lost quite badly. Admittedly I would have won one game had I not played around Settle the Wreckage, but alas at that time I had no idea the deck runs zero copies of that card in the maindeck. Since then, I have heard some anecdotal claims that Skysovereign is decent in the matchup since it is a way to attack planeswalkers that gets around fog effects. Also I have heard that destroying Gift of Paradise hinders the Turbo Fog deck a lot. Taking these with a grain of salt, I'd probably sideboard with my Pro Tour deck like this:
+1 Thrashing Brontodon +2 Vivien Reid +1 Naturalize +1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship +1 Nissa, Vital Force -4 Blossoming Defense -2 Greenbelt Rampager
Clearly the sideboard will need to change a bit assuming Turbo Fog becomes a player in the new metagame. Lost Legacy is the first card that comes to mind that would likely be very good again the fog decks, but the double black mana commitment may be too taxing. Sorcerous Spyglass is an easy inclusion to the sideboard, but I anticipate the fog decks bringing in answers to cards like this. If the Turbo Fog decks becomes a large player in the metagame, perhaps adopting the blue splash for Commit/Memory and Negates in the sideboard is where this deck will end up.

Previous Articles · Meet the Massdrop Teams: http://dro.ps/mtg-team-announce · *2nd* at Pro Tour Ixalan: http://dro.ps/ixalan · Unclaimed Creature Types: http://dro.ps/ari-creatures · Why I Never Drop From Tournaments: http://dro.ps/eric-nevergiveup · The Art of Sideboard Construction - Sultai Energy: http://dro.ps/jon-sideboard · A Commoner’s View on Pauper: http://dro.ps/mark-pauper · Blue Moon Beach Control: http://dro.ps/scott-bluemoon · Top 5 Modern Decks: http://dro.ps/pascal-modern · Storm in Vintage Cube: http://dro.ps/ben-storm · An Early Look at Rivals for Standard: http://dro.ps/shaun-rivals · A Standard Approach to Evaluating New Cards: http://dro.ps/rob-newcards · Drafting Rivals of Ixalan: http://dro.ps/tim-ixalan · Team Sealed Secrets: http://dro.ps/eric-secrets · Steal My Standard Ideas: http://dro.ps/tommy-secrets · Vexing Devil. Any Questions?: http://dro.ps/jon-devil · Team Massdrop Rivals of Ixalan Limited Primer: http://dro.ps/ari-primer · Gestation of RG Eldrazi: http://dro.ps/ben-gestation · Top Tim Tournament Training Tips: http://dro.ps/tim-tips · What Makes Someone Bogle?: http://dro.ps/tommy-bogle · A Pauper Adventure: http://dro.ps/pascal-pauper · Blue Moon at GP Phoenix: http://dro.ps/rob-bluemoon · Brawling into Dominaria: http://dro.ps/scott-brawling · Looking at The Current Lands(cape) of Legacy http://dro.ps/jarvis-land · Deconstructing Dominaria Limited: http://dro.ps/jon-dominaria · Diving into Dominaria Standard: http://dro.ps/mark-dominaria · What are your.. drives?: http://dro.ps/tommy-drives · Top 10 Cards for Dominaria Modern: http://dro.ps/rob-dominaria · Brewing Standard with Dominaria: http://dro.ps/pascal-dominaria · Dominaria Team Sealed: A Case Study: http://dro.ps/tim-dominaria · Battlebonding in Vintage and Legacy: http://dro.ps/jarvis-battlebond · Decks I Almost Played at PT Dominaria: http://dro.ps/ben-dominaria · RB Chainwhirler for the Non-Aggressive Player: http://dro.ps/jon-chainwhirler · Top 4 at GP Vegas: http://dro.ps/mark-top4vegas · Return to Core Set Limited: http://dro.ps/eric-core · Drafting Rares with Core Set 2019: http://dro.ps/ari-core · Tuning Jeskai Control in Modern: http://dro.ps/shaun-jeskai · Secrets of Sealed - http://dro.ps/eric-sealed · A Spike's 1v1 Commander Notes, Parentheticals, and Asides - http://dro.ps/tommy-spikes
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satanwasanta, TomHerrick, and 6 others
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Hi Tim! I wish I had run into this article much much earlier and wanted to thank you for your time and dedication writing up such awesome tech about a deck I love and just took to my first day 2 over the weekend at GP Richmond after five GPs. I hope it sticks post-rotation.
A lot of the lessons you learned here, like Lieutenant being very poor (looks great against specifically Earthshaker but not too much else) and no Vine Mare in the main were hard lessons for me to learn especially into day 2 as R or RB were 5 of the 6 rounds I ended up playing. I went 2-7 against those decks overall between having a poor plan against them and some disastrous misplays.
Miraculously day 1 I was 2-0 against Turbo Fog through some of the most wild games I could imagine playing. Playing around their removal even something like Settle can be a losing proposition regardless as with each passing turn your WP just keeps dropping. Against that deck I'd just say 'buy the ticket...(hope) to win the raffle'.
Thanks again, I really enjoyed your writing style and I look forward to finding your future Magic thoughts now I know where they are.
PS. Not a chance you'd remember this but you were my first opponent about five years ago in a GPT at (formerly) Comics and Gaming in Fairfax, VA. That was my first match in a competitive non-FNM type event ever. I'll never forget how you just absolutely crushed me and how in awe I was; I had an Elspeth and Brimaz and was playing without sleeves early into my time with Magic. Obviously I've learned a lot since then but I wanted to say I've admired your finishes from afar and always rooted you on and hope you continue to find success. Thanks for helping spur my competitive spirit!
-Ted
satanwasanta
Hey Ted - Thank you so so much for your kind words! Glad you liked the article and have stuck with Ghalta for this long. I, on the the other hand, gave up around two weeks ago when my results with the deck significantly turned south. This was around the time when the mono red wizard deck starting gaining popularity along with Rb lists running a few Cut // Ribbons in their main deck. I think these two developments made the metagame bad for the Gb deck as I had it configured in the article. The hyper aggressive mono R decks were just too fast for Gb based on my experiences. I tried a few changes to see if I could improve it, even re-testing Thorn Lieutenant, but I was not able to make anything work. So I ended up playing Rb at GP Richmond over the weekend. Congrats on your day 2 there with the deck!
I can't say I remember that match we had 5 years ago, but that was also around the same time I was getting back into competitive Magic - as you can tell I was grinding Grand Prix Trials since I had zero byes at that time! Feel free to say 'Hi' next time you see me around. I'm happy to hear I played a small part in your love of competitive Magic!!!
All the best, Tim
Wow tnx nice article, if turbo fog enter in the meta, how we see in the pro tour, do you think changing black for blue, for negate and commit? or still playing black and prey for dobble black to cast lost legacy?
Ridosz
Sorry for the late reply, Ridosz! I saw your comment over the weekend and kind of wanted to wait and see how the meta shifted with results from the two GPs. At this time I would seriously consider switching to blue for negates in the SB as well as a few commits in the main. I've never played the Gu version of the deck, so I'm not sure how losing scrapheap and hour of glory will affect its performance - these were some of the most important cards in the 75. Lost legacy might be too narrow as a sideboard card, but the double black problem could be somewhat mitigated with the addition of a few aether hubs.