There are two schools of thought for Legacy these days: you either play Blue, or you play something that can shut Blue down. Every now and then you see an archetype that can really do the latter. MUD, Death & Taxes, and even GW 12Post are absolutely punishing for Blue decks to play against, but there are few decks as terrifying for Joe and Jane Blue Mage as Pox. Pox is a mono-Black deck hellbent on ripping the opponent’s hand to shreds, then winning the long game with either Mishra’s Factory or a single copy of Nether Spirit. It’s a brutal, backbreaking deck for anyone hoping to rely on countermagic, and as the format grows and evolves, so too does Pox, as evidenced by Jason Deiss’s top 16 finish at the Denver Legacy Premier IQ.
While traditional Pox lists go full blast on discard cards, Jason’s list opts for a slew of prison cards to help keep the opponent under control. These are cards like Chalice of the Void, Chains of Mephistopheles, and Nether Void, and as such, the manabase has been altered to reflect these higher costing cards. Ancient Tomb, Mox Diamond, and Dark Ritual all give the deck the power to run out a Chalice of the Void on turn 1, which effectively shuts off the majority of the format. Chains of Mephistopheles, on the other hand, is a simple tool for blanking any attempt at cantripping, as its oracle text reads “If a player would draw a card except the first one he or she draws in his or her draw step each turn, that player discards a card instead. If the player discards a card this way, he or she draws a card. If the player doesn’t discard a card this way, he or she puts the top card of his or her library into his or her graveyard”. In layman’s terms, any attempt at drawing an extra card, be it through Brainstorm or Jace, the Mind Sculptor, will force them to discard or mill that many cards first. This is utterly backbreaking considering that in order to resolve a Brainstorm, this would force a player to discard three cards, draw three cards, then put two of those cards back on top of their deck, netting a massive disadvantage.
In addition, Pox runs several savage resource denial packages. For hand control, Thoughtseize, Hymn to Tourach, Smallpox, and Liliana of the Veil are all capable of ruining an opponent’s hand. While Thoughtseize guarantees you get information and you hit the card you want, the sheer randomness of Hymn to Tourach is often enough that an opponent will spend a Force of Will to avoid accidentally losing a card they really need while you still get two cards out of their hand. Liliana of the Veil is a repeatable means of keeping their hand count low, while Smallpox nabs a card, a creature, and a land from them, which can be a total blowout with most early board states.
Pox’s board control is a little more flexible, as it has cards like Abrupt Decay, which can hit any nonland card with mana cost 3 or less, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, which keeps the various X/1s off the table, and even the Crucible of Worlds/Wasteland lock to stop the opponent from getting to cast their spells to begin with. To pick off smaller creatures, the deck also runs a pair of Cursed Scroll, which will hit more often than not given how quickly you can deplete your hand. This also acts as an additional win condition in the late game.
The sideboard is dedicated to both locking out faster combo decks, and putting the nail in the coffin for fairer Blue decks. For example, the sideboard includes a fourth copy of Chalice of the Void for when you really, really need to stick a Chalice on 1, such as against Storm or RUG Delver, since it shuts off most of their decks. A second copy of Nether Void helps shut off some of the mana-light decks, especially when combined with Wasteland and Crucible of Worlds. Ensnaring Bridge acts as both a way to stop from getting combo killed by Elves + Craterhoof Behemoth and getting Sneak Attacked by Emrakul and Griselbrand, since these creatures all have way too much power to swing in past your Bridge. Trinisphere also goes in for the faster matchups as it allows you to tax their spells to the point where most decks actually won’t be able to cast anything.
For faster graveyard-based decks, the sideboard includes Surgical Extraction and Nihil Spellbomb, which are both cheap means of getting rid of the opponent’s graveyard. Surgical Extraction acts more like a scalpel, carefully taking away the best card in their graveyard, such as an Iona, Shield of Emeria in response to a reanimation spell, while Spellbomb is closer to a battleaxe, clearing away a graveyard in one fell swoop.
The sideboard also includes several cards to help punish Blue decks even further. Pithing Needle does a number on Miracles, as it can shut off Sensei’s Divining Top, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and even their fetchlands to Brainstorm lock them. Choke, on the other hand, plays into the mana denial package as it keeps their Islands tapped down. A resolved Choke makes it very difficult to cast their spells, so it also relieves some of the pressure on our own Wastelands. Finally, should the opponent actually get to cast a creature, Black Sun’s Zenith is a recurrable way to sweep the board, which is especially powerful when used in tandem with Night of Souls’ Betrayal since it frees up your mana a bit to play more spells.
Suffice to say, I’m thrilled that Pox is making a comeback in Legacy. It was one of my first decks when I first got into the format, and the ability to just constantly deny the opponent resources is an absolute blast to play. While the prison elements are a new twist on an old archetype, I love the direction that Jason Deiss has taken the deck. It combines some of the most powerful prison cards with the gold standard for discard spells and turns it into something terrifying. So if you’re in the mood for hating on Blue, you can’t go wrong with Pox!
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