Legacy & Vintage BUG Zenith with Joe Brennan

Legacy and Vintage BUG with Joe Brennan

I recently had the opportunity to talk deck construction with deck-brewer and eternal enthusiast Joe Brennan. Joe has a bunch of impressive tournament finishes including multiple top-8’s, top-16’s, and finishing second in the 2016 Vintage World Championship. Most recently Joe gave everyone at Eternal Extravaganza Seven a run for their money piloting two decks he developed into top 16 and top 8 in Legacy and Vintage respectively.

Legacy: BUG Zenith

Joe Brennan's Legacy BUG Zenith Deck
Joe Brennan’s Legacy BUG Zenith Deck
Creatures (17)
Baleful Strix
Deathrite Shaman
Edric, Spymaster Of Trest
Eternal Witness
Leovold, Emissary Of Trest
Ramunap Excavator
Reclamation Sage
Scavenging Ooze

Spells (24)
Abrupt Decay
Fatal Push
Force Of Will
Green Sun’s Zenith
Murderous Cut

Land (19)
Dryad Arbor
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Tropical Island
Underground Sea
Verdant Catacombs
Sideboard (15)
Far // Away
Leyline Of The Void
Marsh Casualties
Mindbreak Trap
Pithing Needle

Mox Elder: “Let’s talk about your BUG Green Sun’s Zenith deck. How did you come to making it, where did you get your inspiration from?”

Joe Brennan: “My teammate Dan Miller was playing BUG Nic Fit, and I didn’t like the Veteran Explorer plan too much, but I really liked the idea of a Green Sun’s Zenith package in the current metagame. Leovold, Emissary of Trest is such a powerful card, and Deathrite Shaman is probably the best creature in Legacy. Being able to have a tutorable way to get these cards out seemed fantastic. Green Sun’s Zenith also opens gives the deck the ability to function like a tool-box which is really nice. It gives you access to situationally beneficial cards like Reclamation Sage. Running one copy of a card gives you essentially five copies when paired with Green Sun’s Zenith, and that provides a lot of consistency.

The deck is pretty fast; you can get Leovold out as soon as turn two. The deck has eight ways of ramping you into three mana on turn two. You can tutor for Dryad Arbor with Green Sun’s Zenith or play a Deathrite Shaman off of a fetch-land.”

Mox Elder: “Baleful Strix is a very strong two-drop, but it isn’t green. How did you wind up with it in your deck list? I think a lot of people would be afraid that it doesn’t tutor with Green Sun’s Zenith.”

Joe: “Baleful Strix is the only non-tutorable card. It was added to smooth the curve as there weren’t many good options for green tutorable two-drops besides Scavenging Ooze and Tarmogoyf. With Tarmogoyf you can easily tutor it up as a 5/6 because you’ll probably have a Strix in the graveyard. Strix also pairs really well with Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Your opponent will have to kill it, or you’ll keep drawing cards. It turns your Strix into a pseudo-removal spell because if they can block it, they’re almost forced to.”

Mox Elder: “A list like this certainly borrows a lot of inspiration from BUG Nic Fit. How would you compare it to popular Nic Fit lists and other Green Sun’s Zenith decks?”

Joe: “The blue cards like Leovold, Force of Will, Brainstorm and Ponder provide a lot more consistency and interaction on the stack. The cantrips help you smooth our your draw, something a lot of Nic Fit decks can’t do, which really makes the engine purr.

This deck is a lot better against combo. I think historically Green Sun’s Zenith decks have a hard time playing against combo decks; many wind up playing Gaddock Teeg which to me seems really bad. You’re casting an X spell that turns off your future X spells, and then you have to shuffle it back in as a dead draw for later! I don’t like having anti-synergies in my deck.”

Mox Elder: “What cards did you test with that didn’t make it to the final decklist?”

Joe: “Courser of Kruphix was the hardest card to cut from the list. The card is great against Delver decks and with Tarmogoyf since it’s an enchantment.

Courser turned all my Brainstorms and Ponders into “Draw-Two’s,” because you could play a Ponder and put a land back as the second card and play it from Courser’s ability. Courser helped ensure that you could hit all your land drops against a Delver deck, and the incremental life gain helped. The toughness is excellent too because it could block just about anything on the ground.

Another card that was already putting in work against the Delver match-up was Baleful Strix and from testing, Courser wound up being cut.”

Mox Elder: “In the right meta would you make room for Courser?”

Joe: “I’d run a copy in the main deck for sure.”

Mox Elder: “What were some of the other card choices you made as you were building the deck list?”

Joe: “Originally the deck didn’t have any Wastelands in it, but then I put in Ramunap Excavator, and I decided to fit some Wastelands in there.

Before that, I had one Cavern of Souls, because most of the creatures were elves. That version also played Glissa, the Traitor along with two copies of Executioner’s Capsule and one Engineered Explosives instead of Fatal Push. The problem I found wasn’t as much speed (you would figure Capsule is a bit slower), as much as you couldn’t kill a Deathrite Shaman with an Executioner’s Capsule. So I decided to cut the Glissa package and add a couple of Fatal Pushss along with Ramunap Excavator and Wastelands.

The Ramunap Excavator plan is really good against R/G Lands because Punishing Fire can’t kill it and you can keep looping your Wastelands.

There was also a Tireless Tracker in there at one point. That’s the card I really wish there was room for in the deck. If I were to put it in, I’d replace Tarmogoyf with it, but I don’t like leaving Scavenging Ooze in there as the single Green Sun’s Zenith two-drop.

The Tireless Tracker is just unbelievable with Ramunap Excavator. You get to play a Wasteland out of your graveyard every turn and draw a card.”

Mox Elder: “How about the sideboard, how has it evolved and is there any all-star card in there?”

Joe: “Far // Away in the sideboard was an upgrade over Diabolic Edict. You can pitch it to Force of Will, and it’s much better against Dark Depths decks. One of the problems you run into against Dark Depths decks is that if you have an edict, they can often have another creature out like a second Vampire Hexmage. With Far // Away you can bounce the Marit Lage token and make them sacrifice the other creature. It’s also much better in grindy matches like True-Name Nemesis decks. Sometimes you can bounce your Eternal Witness or a Baleful Strix and make them sacrifice their True-Name Nemesis which helps you on card-advantage — something you want in a grindy game. It also helps you deal with Mirran Crusader which is very hard for BUG decks.

Marsh Casualties is very against True-Name Nemesis, Young Pyromancer decks, and Death and Taxes. You’re very often able to kick Marsh Casualties to take out a Deathrite Shaman or a Stoneforge Mystic too. The card is a lot better in this deck over something like Golgari Charm because you want to be able to wipe their board and keep your Baleful Strixes back.”

Mox Elder: “What match-ups do you think the deck is strong against and weak to?”

Joe: “The deck is very good against Delver and Lands. It’s also good against Eldrazi. A few weeks ago I ran into four different Eldrazi players in a tournament and didn’t drop a match.

I’ve had a decent Death and Taxes match-up except when I’m playing against Michael Derczo – he’s got my number. That deck has a high ceiling for the player piloting it to be able to maximize their play skill, and he’s very good. Otherwise, I’ve had a favorable D&T match-up unless playing against him. We always go to three games, and they are always close.

Miracles is one of my bad match-ups. Terminus is real hard for the deck. One or two copies isn’t too bad, but if they’re able to hit me early with a Terminus and then run another one out after I start to rebuild it’s often too much.

Czech Pile can be hard, but it’s gotten a lot better since I included Thrun, the Last Troll. They can’t target it, and Liliana of the Veil can’t do much because I’m playing Dryad Arbor and can even sac a Strix if I have to.”

Vintage: Leo and Dr. Bob

Joe Brennan's Vintage BUG Deck: Leo, and Dr. Bob
Joe Brennan’s Vintage BUG Deck: Leo, and Dr. Bob

Creatures (15)
Dark Confidant
Deathrite Shaman
Leovold, Emissary Of Trest
Ramunap Excavator
Snapcaster Mage
Trygon Predator

Planeswalkers (2)
Jace, The Mind Sculptor

Spells (25)
Abrupt Decay
Ancestral Recall
Black Lotus
Demonic Tutor
Fatal Push
Force Of Will
Mental Misstep
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Sapphire
Null Rod
Time Walk
Vampiric Tutor

Land (18)
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Strip Mine
Tropical Island
Underground Sea
Verdant Catacombs
Sideboard (15)
Energy Flux
Fatal Push
Grafdigger’s Cage
Leyline Of The Void
Mindbreak Trap
Nature’s Claim
Toxic Deluge

Mox Elder: “Keeping in linw with traditional eternal deck naming conventions, this one has a clever name. Can you explain what the name means?”

Joe Brennan: “The deck name is Leo and Doctor Bob, for Leovold, Deathrite (Doctor/Dr.), and Dark Confidant (Bob).”

Mox Elder: “Let’s take a look at the decklist and walk through some of your card choices.”

Joe: “Obviously every Vintage deck that’s not Dredge, and now even some Dredge decks too, will play Black Lotus. The deck only runs on-color Moxen (Mox Jet, Mox Sapphire, and Mox Emerald) because I have a couple copies of Null Rod in the 75.

Demonic Tutor is a card I think every black deck should be playing, and in most cases, Vampiric Tutor is just as important. You will have enough card-advantage where you won’t fall behind from casting the card. it’s also useful with Dark Confidant because you can play tricks with the top of your deck and even make sure Bob doesn’t kill you in a long game.”

Mox Elder: “How has the combination of Dark Confidant, Leovold, Emissary of Trest, and Deathrite Shaman worked out?”

Joe: “I think Dark Confidant is the best draw engine you can be using in BUG right now. I’ve seen a lot of lists playing other spells in this slot like Preordain which I think is wrong. When you’re facing a Workshop-heavy metagame, being able to play your draw engine by turn two without needing to reinvest mana into it every turn is where you need to be. A Preordain deck will instead need to spend more and more mana every turn to run their draw engine which will cost you the game. Bob is also well protected against Shops because of Null Rod – especially post board. If they’re forced to use their Walking Ballista to kill your Dark Confidant, it’s not the worst because you’re buying time which is what you want to do while you set up Energy Flux.

Deathrite Shaman is really essential to the strategy. It gives you a good turn-one play; it has built-in graveyard hate which is relevant in game-one against Dredge. You can keep a hand with a Deathrite Shaman, a mana source, and a Wasteland to kill their Bazaar of Baghdad and eat a Dredger out of their graveyard.

Leovold is good against any blue deck. I haven’t boarded Leovold out ever. It’s good in every match-up. It has a decent body and keeps your opponent from digging for answers.”

Mox Elder: “Let’s discuss the blue cards a bit. I see the usual suspects, Ancestral Recall, Force of Will, Time Walk…”

Joe: “Every blue deck should have a Time Walk, and Ancestral Recall. I have two Snapcaster Mages over Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Snapcaster helps with velocity better, the deck doesn’t have a lot of instant and sorceries and the important ones end up being your Snapcaster targets anyway. Plus having the 2/1 body allows you to apply pressure on your opponent — which is a requirement for decks that run Dark Confidant.”

Mox Elder: “How about Mental Misstep? You’re playing the full four copies.”

Joe: “I would say six months ago we were in a two or three Mental Misstep world. I think right now four Mental Missteps are very important. There are a lot of Deathrite Shamans running around. I want to be able to win the war over my turn-one Deathrite Shaman and being maxed out on Missteps is really helping out. Being able to Misstep a Swords to Plowshares on one of my creatures is also very important.”

Mox Elder: “We got Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the main.”

Joe: “Jace is a mandatory inclusion. Jace helps with Dark Confidant, and it is the best card in the BUG mirror. Whoever lands the first Jace will typically win the game. Jace will Brainstorm almost until I’m forced to discard to hand-size, and then I’ll start Fatesealing, but almost all I want to do with Jace is Brainstorm.”

Mox Elder: “I like the commitment.”

Mox Elder: “Let’s take a look at your sideboard. I see Nature’s Claim at the top here. That’s probably an auto-include against a bunch of decks not to mention random rogue decks that can pop up.”

Joe: “Nature’s Claim was for the Mishra’s Workshop decks and Oath of Druids primarily. Also, it’s useful against Dredge. I didn’t always board it in against Dredge, but now they’re playing Hollow One in addition to Serenity, this gives Nature’s Claim eight targets, so it’s worth bringing in for that match-up too.”

Mox Elder: “Sounds reasonable, and it extends your rather strong Dredge sideboard package quite nicely.”

Joe: “Dredge can be very fast, so I’m also bringing in the Yixlid Jailer, four copies of Leyline of the Void, and two Grafdigger’s Cages.

The Leylines are very important. It gets under Unmask, and with the Sun TitanFatestitcher type of Dredge deck, on the draw you could already be dead with a turn-one hate piece in your hand. On the play, a Grafdigger’s Cage might be all you need as long as you have some pressure to follow it up.

Leyline of the Void having a converted mana cost of four is also relevant because the previous Dredge sideboard plan of having three to four Abrupt Decays is much worse. Now you’re seeing Dredge decks bringing in Nature’s Claim which in turn makes my Mental Missteps far better. Previously I was boarding out Mental Misstep because it was only hitting Cabal Therapy which wasn’t effective enough, and now I can keep them in.”

Mox Elder: “How about the Shops (Mishra’s Workshop) Decks?”

Joe: “Well, Energy Flux is probably the best card in the format against a Workshop deck. I was playing two and went up to three. The whole post-board game-plan against Shops is to assemble an Energy Flux. You can use Abrupt Decay and Fatal Push to buy some time to assemble it. It’s tough for a Shops deck to beat Energy Flux since their best land, Mishra’s Workshop, doesn’t tap to pay upkeep costs. I’m also playing five Stripmine effects and often not even attacking their Workshops. It is often better to instead go after their Ancient Tombs and Mishra’s Factories to keep them from paying their upkeep costs.

Mox Elder: “So will you be taking these decks to Eternal Weekend?”

Joe: “Yeah, I’m definitely going to be playing three Leovold and four Deathrite Shamans in both formats. I think that’s right where you want to be in both formats right now.”