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Priemer’s Primers: Painting the Format Red

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

Priemer’s Primers: Painting the Format Red

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

Mill is one of those win conditions that is generally frowned upon in competitive Magic. Often seen as “silly” and “not fun to play against”, it takes a truly powerful mill spell to make it on to the tournament scene. Cards like Glimpse the Unthinkable, Jace, Memory Adept, and Archive Trap have proven that mill has what it takes to win, but what if you want to drop an atomic bomb on your opponent’s deck and get rid of it in one go?

For nearly half a decade Grindstone was considered a joke rare. Spending three mana to mill two cards seemed silly at a time when Millstone offered those same two cards for just two mana. It would often take a miracle for Grindstone’s “repeat this process” clause to take effect due to the pesky fact that lands are colourless. Because most decks tend to play lands, this made Grindstone considerably worse. Then, in 2008, Grindstone’s prayers were answered in the form of Painter’s Servant. While initially seen as a cutesy combo card in Shadowmoor’s “colour matters” setting, it didn’t take long before the Legacy community started digging the Grindstones out of their closets to abuse the hell out of this lovable scarecrow.


One thing I absolutely love about the modern (not Modern) Painted Stone deck is that it is a Prison-Combo deck that has several avenues of attacking the opponent, and they all vary depending on the match-up. First and foremost is the Painter’s Servant/Grindstone combination. How this works is that Servant makes all cards, and I do mean ALL, the chosen colour, then by activating Grindstone you mill their entire deck. With the Sol lands and Simian Spirit Guides in the deck you can potentially fire this combo off as early as turn 2.

The second method of attack, and this is primarily for the numerous decks in the format that have more colours than brains, is with the six main deck Blood Moon effects. Again, with the Sol lands and Simian Spirit Guides you’re looking at turn 1-2 Blood Moon, which against a deck like Deathblade, RUG Delver, or Shardless BUG can lock them out of the game on the spot. This gives you all the time in the world to set up your combo or just beat them to death with your creatures. Hilariously enough, from the SCG Open that Reuben Bresler piloted the above list, his feature match against Deathblade demonstrated this strategy and netted him a concession on the first turn.

The third way, and definitely the funniest to do, is by beating them to death with your creatures. Once you’ve locked down the board with prison cards, the incidental damage from just attacking with Grey Ogres can get the opponent’s life low enough that you can finish them off with Lightning Bolts and Jaya Ballard. It isn’t a pretty way to win, but every now and then you get stubborn opponents who make you kill them the hard way.

As well, having Painter’s Servant offers a unique advantage to the deck in that by making all cards Blue, you suddenly have access to 1-mana Vindicates and Counterspells. In the 75 there are full sets of Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast. While traditionally used by Red decks to force their Burn spells through countermagic, once Painter’s Servant is in play you can use them to kill off any permanent you want. Leyline of Sanctity getting you down? Destroy target Blue permanent. You want to swing in but Griselbrand’s in your way? Destroy target Blue permanent. Your opponent wants to fire off a Natural Order for a lethal Craterhoof Behemoth? Counter target Blue spell. Turning these innocuous sideboard cards into main deck threats gives Painted Stone the ability to go above and beyond the scope of a regular Red deck.

Finally, there is plenty of utility in your spells that most people don’t think about. Despite Imperial Recruiter ideally being used to find Painter’s Servant, the deck runs a package of hate cards like Phyrexian Revoker, Spellskite, and Jaya Ballard that can all be tutored up. As well, using Sensei’s Divining Top in most decks is simpler because you have fetchlands to ship away cards you don’t want, but this is more difficult to do with Painted Stone since it only runs three Arid Mesas. What you can do, however, is use Chandra or Grindstone on yourself to mill away cards you don’t need. This allows you to dig for your Painter’s Servant or Imperial Recruiter and even return key artifacts from your graveyard to the battlefield with Goblin Welder.


While Painted Stone is mono-Red, there are plenty of sideboard options to work with. Because you have main deck Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blasts, they don’t need to eat up the full 4+ sideboard slots. Instead you only have to put in one copy of each to fill out your sets. Filling out the Imperial Recruiter tutor package, we have a third Magus of the Moon, a second Phyrexian Revoker, and a Manic Vandal. Magus is there to hose the 3+ colour decks even further by increasing your odds of having a turn 1-2 Blood Moon effect. A second Phyrexian Revoker helps fight decks with cards like Lion’s Eye Diamond, Stoneforge Mystic, or Sneak Attack. Lastly, Manic Vandal is a catch-all for problem artifacts that hurt your combo like Pithing Needle and Chalice of the Void.

One problem for Painted Stone is combo decks that are faster than it, such as Sneak and Show and Storm. This is why Painted Stone runs full sets of Ensnaring Bridge and Thorn of Amethyst to slow these decks down long enough that they become manageable. Ensnaring Bridge is necessary for keeping Emrakul and Griselbrand at bay as early as turn 1, or even putting it into play off of the opponent’s own Show and Tell. Thorn of Amethyst adds one mana to all noncreature spells which makes things awkward for creature-light decks like ANT, High Tide, and Charbelcher.

Some other viable options for the sideboard include Tormod’s Crypt, Goblin Welder, Spellskite, and Bloodfire Dwarf. Tormod’s Crypt is key for the various graveyard strategies that can dominate Legacy if left unchecked, such as Dredge and Reanimator. I prefer Tormod’s Crypt simply because it’s one-sided graveyard removal and it’s free to cast. Some people advocate Grafdigger’s Cage, but I’m not a fan of how it interacts with Goblin Welder (it doesn’t). Goblin Welder and Spellskite are great for match-ups where your combo pieces are most likely going to be countered and your Painter’s Servant killed off. By turning something innocuous like a Sensei’s Divining Top into one of your fallen Painter’s Servants, you get some extra value out of your spells. Spellskite is great in these matches because it can take the hit for your Servants, Welders, or Magus, and with a Welder in play you can redirect a removal spell to Spellskite then swap it for an artifact in your graveyard. Bloodfire Dwarf is a really obscure answer for Death and Taxes, Young Pyromancer decks, and Empty the Warrens tokens that can also be tutored up with Imperial Recruiter. Because these decks rely on creatures that are X/1 to lock down or swarm your board, being able to kill the opponent’s army for just RR is both great and hilarious.


With Painted Stone, you want to play decks that run zero basic lands. Archetypes like BUG, Deathblade, Jund, and 12 Post are all severely hindered by your ability to cast turn 1 Blood Moon, and often just give you free wins. Of these, only RUG and UWR Delver can pose a problem since they often have more cheap countermagic like Force of Will, Daze, and Spell Pierce, so running out Blood Moon turn 1 on the draw is a very risky prospect. If you play smart and back up Blood Moon with some Pyroblasts, the match-up becomes a lot easier. As these archetypes comprise most of the “fair” decks in the metagame, having such a good match-up against them is a boon to Painted Stone’s viability.

Sneak and Show decks are very hit-or-miss for Painted Stone. Sneak and Show actually has Blood Moon in their sideboard so they know how to play around it. This makes one of your core methods of attacking them suboptimal. And while you have countermagic for their Show and Tell, you’re often dead to Sneak Attack. Not to mention that because of Emrakul’s shuffle the graveyard clause you can’t even win with Grindstone. Post-board, however, things are marginally easier. For some reason, a lot of Sneak and Show decks don’t have answers to Ensnaring Bridge, and you’re packing a set of them in your sideboard. So while they’re able to stick a giant monster on the table, you can sit back behind your Bridge and hope they draw their Emrakuls so you can combo.

Death and Taxes is one of those decks that just spells trouble for combo decks. Despite all their nonbasics, they’re a mono-White deck which can damper the effectiveness of Blood Moon. They run Phyrexian Revoker main deck to shut off Grindstone, and even have Mother of Runes to protect against Pyroblasts. From my experience, this match-up is often decided by Chandra, Jaya Ballard, and just attacking with your creatures. Just swarm them and push through damage by killing off their hate bears. Sometimes you’ll be able to slip in the Grindstone combo early off of Sol lands and Spirit Guides, but it’s not exactly plan A here.

Lastly, Painted Stone’s absolute worst matches are against decks that are much faster than it. Dredge, ANT, Tin Fins, and Charbelcher can all go off on turn 1-2 before you can even put down a hate card. A lot of the time you pretty much have to play first, hope you have a Thorn of Amethyst and a Sol land in your opening hand, and then pray it’s enough to slow them down.


There is, in fact, an older incarnation of Painted Stone that was Blue/Red for Force of Will, Brainstorm, and Transmute Artifact. It had both Mox Opal and Grim Monolith to accelerate its mana in addition to its four Sol lands. This allowed to to cast all its combo pieces in one big turn while protecting them with countermagic, or play one of its two Wurmcoil Engines as a backup plan. It also had a full set of Goblin Welders which, along with both Great Furnace and Seat of the Synod, gave the deck more recursive power. Being able to turn a land into a combo piece or Wurmcoil at instant speed made the deck powerful at the time, but as the Legacy meta began to shift, this version proved far too slow to keep up.


In short, to punish people for thinking they can jam their deck full of nonbasic lands. The current Legacy format is teeming with greedy manabases, and Painted Stone is the best suited to shut them down. With a nearly mono-artifact sideboard and a main deck tutor package, the deck can be customized for nearly any metagame. You also have inevitability in a lot of long, grinding games. Knowing that you can go off at any time is a huge psychological factor, and often just by representing the combo you can make your opponent play more cautiously, all the while you get to smack them around with creatures. Painted Stone offers dozens of lines of play from any board state, and when you have options you have a better chance of winning.

Join me next time when I discuss everyone’s favourite mono-Green deck: Elves! What makes the Little Green Men tick? Just how good is Natural Order? What exactly did the Legend Rule do to the deck? Find out here on the next Priemer’s Primers!

Twitter: @tylerthefro
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