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Priemer’s Primers: Breaking the Rules

Written by Tyler Priemer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

Priemer’s Primers:  Breaking the Rules

Tyler Priemer

Tyler has been playing TCGs for nearly 20 years. A long brewer with a knack for Legacy, there's nothing he loves more than making crazy decks a reality

There are a few unwritten rules in Legacy. You don’t mulligan with Manaless Dredge. You don’t keep a Mono-Wasteland opener. But above all else, you do not play Four Horsemen.

Dating back to 2011, Four Horsemen is a graveyard-centric archetype designed to cycle through the entire deck an infinite number of times. The deck has carried something of a taboo in recent years, becoming known as the one “illegal archetype” in the format. However, I have managed to figure out a way to make it not only legal, but quite formidable in the current Legacy format.

BUT FIRST, A HISTORY LESSON

With the combination of Mesmeric Orb and Basalt Monolith, you can repeatedly tap and untap the Monolith, milling one card every time you do it. This mills the set of Narcomoeba as well as the second stage of the combo. With Dread Return, Blasting Station, and Sharuum the Hegemon in the graveyard, you can sacrifice the Narcomoebas to bring back Sharuum, which in turn brings back Blasting Station. Once that’s done, you continue milling until you hit Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, shuffling your graveyard back into your deck. You then continue milling yourself until you hit a Narcomoeba, which you can sacrifice to the Blasting Station to ping the opponent. You continue this until you hit Emrakul, shuffling the sacrificed Narcomoebas back in, repeating the process.

The deck also runs a full suite of counterspells, cantrips, and hand disruption to keep the opponent from interacting with it. Lim-Dul’s Vault can stack the top of your deck however you want, allowing you to get your combo pieces in the proper order. Brainstorm is also exceptionally strong when you can mill any dead cards on top of your deck with Mesmeric Orb. But the most powerful disruption card in the deck is undoubtedly Cabal Therapy. By looping the Narcomoebas over and over, you can flashback your Therapies and strip the opponent’s hand down to nothing, guaranteeing that they will be unable to stop you.

The downside, however, is that this loop poses a problem from a tournament standpoint. Yes, it is obvious that you are comboing off ad infinitum, and the opponent is most assuredly dead. While it’s colloquially acceptable to say “I’ll do this infinity times”, in a tournament it is required that you specify a number. Unfortunately, thanks to Emrakul, you are unable to state exactly how many times you can perform the loop in order to kill the opponent. It could take you as few as five iterations of the loop to win, or it could take you five thousand. You don’t know, so you are typically issued a Slow Play penalty because the board state has not advanced and you can’t say how many more times you will need to perform the loop.

Conversely, with Khans of Tarkir, there appears to be a way to perform the Mesmeric Orb/Basalt Monolith combo without running into issues with legality. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant gives Four Horsemen a way to constantly advance the board state as well as a way to state a specific number of times you can perform the loop.

Because Mesmeric Orb mills one card at a time, every time you hit a Narcomoeba or Emrakul, you will get a zombie token, and because Narcomoeba is a “may” ability, you can decline the trigger to keep them in the graveyard. Simply put, once Sidisi is reanimated, you are able to say “I’ll mill one by one until I hit Emrakul, and I’ll respond to its trigger by milling until the library is empty. Then I’ll let the trigger resolve and shuffle my graveyard into my deck.” Each time you would do this, it ends with the same game state of a shuffled full deck, plus however many additional zombie tokens. You can then say you’ll repeat the loop an arbitrarily high number of times and end up with a horde of zombies.

WHAT SHOULD MY SIDEBOARD LOOK LIKE?

There are two main approaches to sideboarding with Four Horsemen. The first is to try to fight all of the graveyard hate in the format, and the second is to run a transformational sideboard to circumvent enemy graveyard hate. Personally, I’m a fan of the second plan for this archetype, as the variety of different hate cards seeing play right now can be problematic. The transformational sideboard plan typically trades off the Orbs, Monoliths, Dread Return, and Sidisi in favour of more copies of Emrakul, Show and Tells, and Spell Pierces. Given the disruptive nature of the maindeck, the opponent will most likely mulligan aggressively for their hate cards so they can play them before you can Cabal Therapy them away. With this in mind, you can effectively Time Walk the opponent by letting them waste their turn playing useless graveyard hate.

The rest of the sideboard is set up to beat Death and Taxes, which poses more unique issues than just graveyard hate. Having maindeck Karakas can unintentionally ruin our sideboard plan, so Pithing Needle is essential. Needle also has the advantage of turning off Deathrite Shaman, Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus, so you can also switch back to the main combo with relative impunity should you see these cards. This can really throw most opponents off their game, as they may then try to board into ways to fight Emrakul. The other anti-Death and Taxes card is Massacre, which in our deck is almost always a free board wipe. This helps handle Thalia, Spirit of the Labyrinth, and also just lowers the number of permanents they have in play so Emrakul’s Annihilator becomes a true board wipe.

SO HOW ARE MY MATCHUPS?

Four Horsemen generally has favourable matchups against fairer Legacy decks like Delver and Stoneblade. These decks tend to be unable to interact with your combo, especially after multiple Cabal Therapies. They also run very little graveyard hate, which makes the maindeck combo far stronger. Deathrite Shaman decks like Jund and Shardless BUG can be problematic if they get Deathrite online, but the only card in your graveyard you’re concerned about them eating is Sidisi, so you can play around it relatively easily. As well, these decks tend to fairly poorly against Show and Tell into Emrakul.

The deck runs enough countermagic to help mitigate faster combos like Reanimator and Charbelcher, and it has the hand disruption to shut down Storm decks. The only real issue is that they can combo off before you can even get a turn, so if you keep a slower or non-interactive opening hand, you may get completely blown out. Your postboard games are much easier once you know what you’re up against and what hands you can keep, but it can be dicey.

FINAL VERDICT: WHY BUILD FOUR HORSEMEN?

You should build Four Horsemen if you feel the need to create an army of hundreds of millions of zombies, the desire to do what was previously taboo, or the overwhelming craving to irritate every judge in the room. The deck does things that scoff at the previously established rules, and attacks on an axis that very few are prepared to fight. When you’re in the mood for some apocalyptic fun, you can’t go wrong with Four Horsemen!

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