Let’s talk a little more about Legacy. I don’t know if you know this, but Legacy is where budget decks go to… well, not die exactly. I mean, if you’re slowly consumed by a speculator-driven price machine, and your physical form is conscripted into service while some small part of your mind is allowed to live on, screaming silently and endlessly at what’s happening to you but unable to do anything about it… it’s not entirely death, is it?
How about “Legacy is where budget decks go to pray for the sweet release of a death that will never come because life has become a burden too onerous to bear.”
Yeah. That’ll do.
The thing is that budget decks do exist in Legacy. They do! Honestly! I have seen them, and heard them whispered of in songs and tales of old. But the second a budget card starts to do well in Legacy, it stops being a budget card. This is somewhat true of any format, but it is especially, insanely true of Legacy.
Let’s take the strange case of Karakas.
At the time of Mangara’s release in 2006, Karakas was a five-dollar card. Which is to be expected… although it was published as an uncommon, and is not on the reserve list, it was printed some time ago, and a little expense is to be expected.
If you take a moment to go check the price of Karakas today, you’ll see where I’m going with this.
Anyway. Mangara and Karakas make a powerful combo that might not be readily apparent, and it hinges on the wording of his ability (or really on the placement of his punctuation). The exiling of Mangara takes place after the colon, which makes it part of the ability, not part of the cost. This makes Mangara very different than, say, Haazda Exonerator. For the Exonerator’s ability to happen, the Exonerator has to die. It’s part of the cost of activating the ability. But the only cost of activating Mangara’s ability is tapping. Once that happens, the ability is on the stack and goes ahead as planned, no matter what happens to Mangara.
This is where Karakas steps in. You tap Mangara. You put his ability on the stack. Then, before it resolves, you use Karakas to bounce him back to your hand. Your opponent’s permanent gets exiled, while the ability looks around for Mangara, can’t find him, shrugs, and moves on with life. You recast Mangara, and do the whole thing again next turn.
This little combo became the launching-off point for a deck called Death and Taxes. The deck does well; it is considered competitive.
If you didn’t check the price of Karakas before, do so now. We’ll wait.
Okay, wipe the coffee off your screen.
Now Death and Taxes isn’t the only reason Karakas shot up in price. The printing of Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn had more than a bit to do with it as well. But the fact is that showing up in winning Legacy decks takes a card that lingered around five bucks for twelve years, and in a puff of money replaces it with a little sign that says, “Oh well, I probably wasn’t fun to play with anyway.”
Which means you’re gonna need some substitutes.
We tend towards Modern decks in this column, which means Karakas wouldn’t have been available to us anyway. Thankfully, there are several cards in Modern that can simulate the effect, for less than a dollar at a time.
Fun fact about Mangara… he only has to leave the battlefield to dodge his own effect; he doesn’t have to stay away for very long. Even if it’s just for a split second, that’ll get the job done. When a creature leaves the battlefield, it’s gone; the card that returns is considered a brand new creature, with no relation to the old one. So when you use Cloudshift on Mangara in response to his ability, his ability won’t care about the Mangara who re-enters the battlefield. It won’t even notice him. Either of these cards will grab you an extra use out of Mangara, or any of the other support cards we’ll be using when we put the deck together.
This will be the real substitute for Karakas in our deck. It’s not as powerful; it has a mana cost and an activation cost, while Karakas doesn’t. And as a land, Karakas can’t be countered. But Crystal Shard does have the benefit of costing something in the neighborhood of sixty cents. And it has the added bonus of working on non-legendary creatures. All you have to do is target your own creature, not pay the 1 mana, and bounce them back to your hand.
“Wait Dan, back up, what non-legendary creatures? We haven’t even mentioned any other creatures yet! You’ve just gone on about Mangara for like 800 words!” Okay, you need to learn some patience. Seriously, this now-now-now attitude is unbecoming.
Blade Splicer/Inquisitor Exarch
So we’ve devoted a solid chunk of our deck to bouncing and flickering creatures. Clearly we’re going to need some creatures with enter-the-battlefield effects that we can abuse multiple times. Neither of these needs an enormous amount of explanation… Blade Splicer generates a 3/3 token every time she shows up for the party, so you’re going to want her showing up a lot. And Inquisitor Exarch beefs you up or cuts your opponent down, depending on what the situation calls for; again, an effect you’d like to make happen over and over again.
This one does require a few more words of explanation, although not many, because it works in a manner similar to Mangara.
At a first glance, it would seem like bouncing or flickering Fiend Hunter would be a really bad idea; won’t your opponent just get their creature back when Fiend Hunter leaves the battlefield? Well, if we were talking about Banisher Priest that would indeed be the case.
But Fiend Hunter, unlike Banisher Priest, has two separate abilities. One exiles a creature; the other returns it. The first one happens when Fiend Hunter enters the battlefield, and the second happens when he leaves it. And both abilities use the stack separately.
So when Fiend Hunter enters the battlefield, that first ability goes on the stack and you have a window in which to act before it resolves. If you respond to that trigger by bouncing him back to your hand with Crystal Shard, the second ability will go on the stack after the first, and resolve before it. Which means Fiend Hunter will try to return a creature to the battlefield that has not yet been exiled. Nothing will happen. Then Fiend Hunter will exile the creature, which will stay exiled forever, because the ability that would return it has already come and gone.
Then, of course, you can recast Fiend Hunter, and exile another creature. You can also do this with a Cloudshift or a Momentary Blink, just by targeting the Fiend Hunter in response to the first ability.
So what happens if we put all these together, then?
Pain and Tariffs
What we’ve got here is (like its forebear, Death and Taxes) a solid little white weenie deck, with an extra bag of interactive tricks to play with. However, it can be made a little more solid.
You’ll recall, when we talked about UrzaTron, I said that even though these are budget decks, there was a more expensive card that I would be remiss to not mention. Well, that’s the case again here. If you ever find yourself in the mood to sink a little more money into this deck, the first card on your list should be Æther Vial. If I were building this deck with a higher budget, my first act would be to replace the Bonesplitters with Æther Vials, and the Cloudshifts with Flickerwisps. Combining the two cards will make a chunk of your flicker effects uncounterable, while the Aether Vial on its own will add speed to your deck by letting you drop another creature per turn. It’ll crank up your maneuverability by letting you pop out Fiend Hunters and Leonin Arbiters at instant speed, and… you know what, it’s pretty much a solid card in any aggro deck you’d ever care to build.
Past that, this is a deck with a lot of room for personal improvisation. White doesn’t have a shortage of creatures that trigger when they hit the battlefield, or small, powerful creatures with fun or disruptive effects. This deck is an all-purpose launching-off point, not a finished product. Get building.