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High Tide, Low Budget

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

I’ll be the first to say it. I have poor impulse control when it comes to promo cards. Every time I see the IDW Magic comic at my LGS, I check what the promo card is for the month, and if the card is remotely playable, I buy them out. It doesn’t matter if I even plan on actually playing them, if it’s decent I’ll buy it. Case in point: the day they came out with the comics with the Standstill promo, I bought 11 copies without skipping a beat. I figured that Merfolk and Landstill were both decks in Legacy, so why not? It didn’t hurt that the LGS had a deal where bulk purchases evened out at $4, and the card was $15 at the time.

Why am I regaling you with my tale of accidental savvy? Because this time, I bought a set of promo Turnabouts, and I intend to actually play the damned things.

This is an incredibly dangerous undertaking for me, financially speaking, for one reason: The only Legacy deck that actually runs Turnabout is High Tide. High Tide is notable for its use of Candelabra of Tawnos, which sits at roughly $250-$300 for each copy. Trying to build one of the generally accepted lists for High Tide would turn my $16 impulse buy into a $750-plus money pit the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 1986 Tom Hanks movie of the same name. I’d have to put all my brewing power to use if I wanted to save roughly a weekend getaway’s worth of cash.

Here’s the challenge I set for myself: I have to design a High Tide variant without Candelabra of Tawnos that is still capable of winning on Turn 3 or 4 like the stupifyingly expensive version. I also wanted to minimize the number of $20-plus cards I would have to buy. Thankfully, I already have a set of Force of Wills, Misty Rainforests and Scalding Tarns. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother and put the money toward building another dozen Modern decks.

Alternate reality

In order to pull this off, I looked at how the previous incarnations of High Tide were playing and winning. As far as I could tell, every card could be broken down into three categories: ramp spells (High Tide, Turnabout, Time Spiral, Candelabra of Tawnos), cantrips (Brainstorm, Ponder) and counterspells. The ramp spells allowed the deck to generate absurd amounts of mana to kill with Blue Sun’s Zenith, and the cantrips enabled the player to dig out everything they need to continue comboing off.

In this version, Candelabra is easily the best ramp spell; but my inability to use them forced me to look elsewhere. Fortunately, there just so happened to be an entire block with the mechanic I needed. Urza’s Block was home to several blue spells like Time Spiral that were essentially “free” because they untapped lands equal to the spell’s casting cost. This little oversight over how f’ing broken this mechanic is with mana-doubling effects has given me a couple options. I’ve already decided to bite the bullet and pick up a set of Time Spirals, but there’s one other free spell I’ve had my eye on …

Palinchron. This bane of every EDH player allows me to generate infinite mana and storm count as long as my lands are capable of producing 12 mana. Since it costs seven mana to cast and four mana to bounce it to my hand (11 mana total), being able to produce 12 mana nets me one mana every time I repeat the process. With a little math, I can pull this off with three High Tides active with three lands, or two High Tides with four lands. The latter is far easier to pull off, and it lets me win on the same turn as the regular High Tide in considerably fewer steps.

Another addition that helps set up the second High Tide and get extra value out of nearly all my other spells is a pair of Snapcaster Mages. Being able to flash back Turnabouts, Merchant Scrolls or High Tides can really smooth out the turn I combo off. It’s a bit of a non-bo with Time Spiral because any spell I flashback is one less copy I can potentially draw off of a resolving Time Spiral, but I find it’s a worthwhile risk.

What I love about Snapcaster Mage in this build is it effectively cuts in half the number of spells I need to cast to get a lethal storm count for Brain Freeze. I can Brain Freeze for say, eight storm and mill 24 cards, then cast Snapcaster, flash it back for 10 storm and mill another 30 cards, which is conveniently just enough to deck someone out. Sure beats the hell out of chaining 17 spells together, right?

One of the biggest changes the Snapcaster Mages allow is placing more emphasis on Brain Freeze as my main win condition. I generally need the Palinchron plan in place to even consider Blue Sun’s Zenith as a win-con, whereas Brain Freeze will more often than not be lethal by virtue of Palinchron storming off, casting it twice with Snapcaster, or just good ol’ fashioned chaining spells. When I tested the Candelabra version, I often found that by the time I was ready to kill with Blue Sun’s Zenith, my storm count was high enough that Brain Freeze would have been lethal. This was a colossal load off my mind.


I knew the sideboard would be a challenge because I have Cunning Wish and can run more one-ofs than normal. A lot of times in testing, I just didn’t board anything in because Cunning Wish can pick anything out when I need it, rather than hoping to draw it naturally. It actually feels like cheating a lot of the time. You can win so many Game 1s by casually grabbing a dedicated sideboard card whenever you feel like it. Legacy is a fairly diverse format, so I wanted to get a wide variety of spells that could handle a bevy of decks: decks with Force of Will, combo decks, and aggro decks.

Force of Will decks

For Force of Will decks like Delver and U/W Miracles, I’ve included three Spell Pierce, a fourth Force of Will and a Pact of Negation. Generally, I bring these cards in against decks that go heavy on the counterspells. Going up to five free counterspells and five ridiculously cheap ones allow me to force through my key spells like Time Spiral or Palinchron. I usually take out my Cunning Wishes since they open me up to too many blowouts in a counter war. Fortunately, with the rise in popularity of decks like Jund and BUG, counterspells are becoming less common; having to jam the deck full of counterspells is steadily becoming less of a necessity.

When I played this deck in a team event in Toronto, my first round was against BUG control, which ran very little countermagic. It opted to use more hand disruption to pick away my key spells. But as long as I could counter the Hymn to Tourach on Turn 2, I was able to go off with very little issue. As long as these decks maintain their current popularity, it’s important to bring in the free/cheap countermagic to protect our hand in those early turns.

Combo decks

For the combo decks (and I’m counting Dredge and Reanimator as combo decks), I bring in my Force of Will and Mindbreak Trap. Free counterspells are really good in these matchups, but Pact of Negation can be iffy since most combo decks can go off before we can make the mana to pay for Pact. For Dredge, Reanimator and sometimes Sneak and Show, I’ve included a Ravenous Trap, which is better against Dredge, and a Surgical Extraction, which is great against Reanimator. Surgical Extraction is also key against Brain Freeze’s No. 1 enemy: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Traditionally found in Sneak and Show lists, it’s borderline impossible to win via Brain Freeze as long as Emrakul is in their deck. Surgical Extraction lets me put the “shuffle the graveyard” trigger on the stack, rip all the Emrakuls out of their deck, and continue milling them.

Because there are many ways Sneak and Show can win, I’ve also got a couple ways of dealing with their win conditions. For Emrakul, I also have a copy of Curfew, to undo it getting cheated into play. When they cheat in Griselbrand or Omniscience, I have Wipe Away, which can bounce them. They can neither counter Wipe Away for free with Omniscience nor draw seven cards in response with Griselbrand. Having a toolbox I can tutor up with Cunning Wish really puts a damper on the deck.

Aggro decks

Aggro decks aren’t really that common in Legacy because of how easy it is for control decks to blow them out. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still pop up from time to time. The most common is Burn because it’s one of the cheapest Legacy decks to build. In the aforementioned team event, I was paired against Burn in the second round. In this matchup, I found that my life total is largely irrelevant as long as we can survive until Turn 4. It’s rather difficult against Burn, as an above-average hand can kill on Turn 3, so having the extra Force of Will and Spell Pierces helped drag the game into the turns we need to combo off.

Take a number

I’ve been very happy with the way the deck has been performing. It kills on the same turn as the bank-breaking version of High Tide, and Palinchron is a card very few people expect. There are few things as satisfying as saying “so now I have thirty-trillion mana and thirty-trillion storm count,” and it’s something I get to say often with this list.  Just remember you can’t say “infinity.” You actually have to name a number, as I found out at the team event. So far the only real problem with the list is getting killed by Red Deck Wins the turn before you can go off, but that’s not too shabby. If you want to play High Tide without having to file for bankruptcy, I strongly recommend giving this list a shot.

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