Canadian Threshold: A Primer
Canadian Threshold: A Primer for Idiots:
Hello fellow idiot. My last primer for you mongoloids was well received, so I am going to try to do another one. Hopefully you will all be able to understand it without the audio version. Today I am going to teach you how to crush your opponents into the dirt. This is not for the faint-hearted. You must be strong-willed, and disciplined to play the deck known as RUG Delver, or Canadian Threshold. Patience and Tactical ingenuity are requirements to take this course. Alright, lets dive in:
4 Lightning Bolt
3-4 Force of Will
2-4 Spell Pierce
0-3 Spell Snare
0-3 Chain Lightning
0-2 Forked Bolt
0-3 Thought Scour
0-2 Green Sun’s Zenith
0-3 Tormod’s Crypt
0-2 Ancient Grudge
0-1 Life from the Loam
2-3 Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast
0-3 Sulfur Elemental
0-2 Gilded Drake
0-1 Blue Elemental Blast
0-2 Surgical Extraction
0-1 Grafdigger’s Cage
0-1 Pithing Needle
0-2 Mind Harness
0-3 Rough // Tumble
0-1 Scavenging Ooze
Wait, what? Why are there all these varying numbers on most of the cards? (Ed. Note: Grrr) Well, this is not exactly a brand spanking new deck, and many variations exist. Choosing which options are right for you will be discussed in later sections. While some lists you may find online play different cards than the ones above, I would suggest staying within those parameters, unless you want to lose AND be publicly shamed afterwards. You have been warned.
Your deck contains approximately 10000000 cards that cost 1 mana, around 4 that cost 2 mana, and the rest are effectively free spells (Force of Will, Daze). Your deck plays between 18 and 19 lands, of which 4 are Wastelands. This means you will have between 14 and 15 coloured(thats how you spell the word when talking about CANADIAN threshold, folks) sources, which while not very many, is generally enough to cast all your exceedingly cheap spells.
The main objective of the deck to gain an advantage is that it tries to deploy an early threat and protect it with disruption for long enough to eke out a win. You are playing a Tempo deck, not a Control deck. Your deck will not be able to stop all of your opponent’s cards, only enough cards in the right time frame to be able to kill them. The deck uses a slight mana denial sub theme, with Wastelands, Daze, and often Stifle to deny your opponent resources, causing them to stumble long enough for you to finish them off. The deck in fact plays out more like an aggro deck than a control deck, though like most aggro-control decks (which this one somewhat is [please don't read this Adrian Sullivan]), you can take up either role reasonably well depending on matchup.
Since many of your cards, such as Daze, Wasteland, Spell Pierce, and Stifle, are much better in the earlier stages of the game you generally want to make the games last as little time as possible. However, unlike many aggressive strategies, you can still compete going into the late game (see Brainstorm section).
This deck wins by attacking with creatures. While you have a small to medium burn suite, you are NOT a burn deck. Burn in this deck is basically a split card of Doom Blade and Lava Spike depending on whether you are against a combo/control deck, or an aggressive or midrange deck. You want to stick a threat, protect it, and ride it to victory. However, you are not playing a swarm strategy, so a singular threat, backed up with enough disruption, can get the job done.
Your deck has 18-19 lands. However, 4 of those are not ‘really’ lands at all, so you effectively have 14-15 ‘REAL’ lands. You will often be operating under 1 or 2 mana. Having more than 2 lands in play is sometimes needed, but it is fairly rare.
While Wastelands can’t be used for the majority of the spells in your deck, I do find that too many players automatically throw them willy-nilly at their opponent’s first available non-basic. While this strategy is often correct, sometimes you need to act with more forethought and precision when utilizing Wasteland. Identifying when you will need it to cast a Tarmogoyf, for instance, can be the difference between having an early threat and THEN using Wasteland, to using Wasteland without a threat in play (ie. Wasting it).
It is turn 1, and your opponent played a Savannah and a Noble Hierarch. I have seen, many many times, a Wasteland get pointed towards the Savannah and the turn passed. This is generally a mistake. Playing a threat such as a Delver of Secrets would be a much better turn 1 play in most situations, because then you are the one ahead on the board.
Wasteland exchanges your land drop and card for your opponent’s land drop and card, and thus is no gain for you whatsoever. In fact, you lost out because your opponent was able to utilize the mana from their land before it got Wastelanded, and thus profited from the exchange.
However, compare this to a situation where you are ahead on board. In that situation, by using your Wasteland on their land, you set both yourselves back a turn, but you get another turn with your threat in play. That is another turn of attacking, another turn of your ‘taxing’ counter magic being at its peak, and another turn of your opponent being stalled from executing their game-plan. It is similar to casting Time Walk. If you have nothing in play, Time Walk is not a good card. But if you can somehow gain something other than the draw step/land drop from your extra turn, you have gotten an incredible use out of the card.
Since your manabase is so light, opposing Wastelands are quite threatening. You will often have to keep 1 land hands (see following section on Mulligans), so you must play around this as much as possible. On camera at an SCG, I saw a player play a turn 1 Nimble Mongoose instead of keeping their fetchland untracked or Pondering for an additional land. While playing early threats is good, having mana to play spells continuously is usually better.
Fetchlands do have extra utility other than playing around Wastelands. It is far superior to use your non-fetchlands in the early turns and to save them as a shuffle effect for later, both for Ponder and for Brainstorm (see appropriate section).
Once again, mana is king. You cannot keep no land hands with this deck, which includes hands without blue mana. You need to be able to apply early pressure, and to do that requires being able to cast spells. A hand with triple Wasteland is simply treading water. This cannot be stated enough. Your deck is geared towards generating tempo, but you have to USE that tempo towards your game plan of attacking with dorks.
Generally, most hands with 1-2 lands are keepable. However, if you know the matchup, this changes. The following hand I would keep in the dark, but not knowing my opponent was playing Belcher:
Game 1, your deck will be full of cards geared towards a variety of matchups. You will have Lightning Bolts and your secondary removal spell of choice against aggro, and Spell Pierces/Stifles/Force of Will/Daze against Control and Combo. Post board, you can remove most of the cards that under perform in each matchup for cards that are insane against your opponent’s deck. The amount of sideboard hate in your hand should be a consideration, because while many main deck cards are still awesome after sideboard (Force of Will against Storm, Lightning Bolt against Maverick), there are often some that are much less potent than their sideboard colleagues, and therefore you should definitely mulligan much more aggressively post board, or when you know what matchup you are playing.
Hands with multiple mana sources are generally bad, with the exception of the mirror (or other mana-denial decks such as Pox). The following is a mulligan against most other decks:
Notice that none of the lands are Wasteland. It should not be analyzed in the context of your opening hand as such. Despite having the rather deceiving usage of being a permanent that taps for mana, Wasteland should generally be looked at as:
You cannot cast Wasteland if you have played a land this turn.
Destroy target nonbasic land.
You cannot play lands this turn.
5 land and onwards hands should effectively never be kept. For 4 and fewer lands, there are some exceptions. For instance, I would keep the following:
Altogether, though, there are really 3 things you look for in a hand playing Canadian Threshold. The first is ideally having 2 lands (+or- 1). The second is having a threat, or if not a threat then at least a cantrip (though ideally 2), and the third is having disruption. You are generally not going to just win the game on the strength of your creatures alone. Zoo(if it’s still a deck) and Maverick will both pump out consistently larger threats than you, and will continue to draw them later in the game while you draw Daze and Spell Pierce. You want to execute your game plan, while denying them the opportunity to follow through with theirs.
Cantrips (A.K.A. The Brainstorm section, featuring Ponder):
Brainstorm may be the hardest card in the history of the game to play properly. Yes, I know you dimwits are saying that you NEVER play it incorrectly, or that you have practice with the planeswalker who casts it (Jace, though when you get to do it EVERY FREAKING TURN you can screw it up once and it won’t matter), but let’s set the record straight. Nobody ever Brainstorms properly every time. My hope is that after reading this section you will play it at a Simian, rather than Dinosaur level (think brain size).
Here is what Brainstorm is supposed to do in this deck:
Yeah. If you have tried playing this deck, and you have never (or rarely) done that, you are doing it wrong. In my mind, this is the singular most important feature of this deck, and really the reason to play it.
Now consider that 50% of the 2s are Daze (and therefore free), and that the 5s are all Force of WIll (also free). Yes, Tarmogoyf is the only card that you will be paying more than 1 mana for (unless you run Snapcaster). This means that you should never have to have more than 2 lands in play, 1 Tropical Island and 1 Volcanic Island. With those in play, you can cast every single spell in your deck (for all intents and purposes). Sometimes you will want to have 3 lands in play to not get bottlenecked on mana for upcoming counter-wars, but generally keeping just 2 lands in play is perfect.
What is the point? Well, lands past the 2nd are dead cards. You do play very few lands, so you shouldn’t get flooded often, but you will still draw some going into the mid or late game. DO NOT PLAY THESE. Well, you can play the first fetch land that you draw, but you should NOT be playing lands after that (besides Wastelands, which if you read the prior section, you will know is really a master of disguise…if you haven’t read it, or don’t know what Wasteland is, please consult your doctor). You will sandbag these in hand, regardless of whether or not your hand contains Brainstorm at the time. Whenever your hand contains 2 lands and a Brainstorm, and you have a fetch land in play, now is the time to cast your Brainstorm. Put both lands on top. Fetch and shuffle. Clap your hands and slap yourself on the back. YAY!
However, while that is the IDEAL usage for Brainstorm, it would not be a hard card to play if there was always a correct way to play it. What makes the card so complicated is that you need to use your judgement to decide when the correct time to play it is. You are playing a Tempo (or Aggro-Control, depending on whichever way you prefer your arbitrary definitions) deck, and the theme is to take advantage of that tempo. If you are just sitting there with no threats in play with Brainstorm sitting in your hand and your opponent continually playing lands, you should reexamine the situation. It is probably time to Brainstorm (or maybe even too late). You need to be actively doing something, as many of your cards lose their effectiveness as you progress later into the game, so if you just sit there having a staring contest with your opponent while he progresses his game plan (playing lands), then you are doomed to fail.
Brainstorm is of even greater importance in game 1s. Your deck has a bunch of cards that are relatively flexible, but it still has cards that are bad against certain decks in the maindeck, and others that are awesome. Well, Brainstorm away the crappy ones and keep the good ones! Brainstorm also allows this deck to maintain a perfect balance of threats and reactive cards, a problem that many other decks of the genre suffer from. It simply improves the consistency of your deck, and smooths your draws, allowing you to sculpt the perfect hand for whatever situation you may find yourself in.
Often, you will need to Brainstorm or Ponder into more lands. I often will see a player with 2 lands in play and a Tarmogoyf in hand cast Ponder, find a land, draw it, and play their Tarmogoyf. I then proceed to berate said player. As stated earlier, having 2 lands in play is your IDEAL state, but there is more to it than that. When you play your cantrips in this deck, you should be actively trying to find SOMETHING. You need to have a plan. Figure out what card or cards you need to win this game, and cast your cantrip trying to find those cards. You should not cast a cantrip just because you can hit a land with better mana usage. Your deck is already built to maximize mana usage. All your spells are super cheap and efficient. You need to worry about having enough action, and enough of it, to be able to (SAY IT WITH ME) put your opponent on a clock and hold the position long enough for them to die. I cannot stress this point enough.
Imagine you are a knight in shining armour. You are in charge of guarding this castle with your group of 50 men against an army of 100 000 men. You will not be able to hold it forever, eventually their superior numbers will overwhelm you. But you do have some tricks, like burning oil, your castle walls, and flaming arrows through slits to whittle away at them, holding the fort until reinforcements arrive.
You need to have the burning oil and arrows, or you will be overwhelmed too soon, and you need to reinforcements to be coming or holding them off won’t do anything.
THAT is what playing this deck is about.
Your opponent being at 0 life. However you accomplish this feat is up to you, but generally it involves beating down with dudes, and occasionally throwing burn at their face to finish the job. The whole point of this deck, however, is to keep your opponent off THEIR endgame. You are trying to accomplish your plan of killing them dead while stunting them long enough to do so. Pretty much every deck in the format has a better late game than you. The key is to identify which decks have a better EARLY game than you, and which have a better MIDDLE game than you.
In other words, you need to identify what deck you are facing, and whether you need to be the aggro or control role. Since you are not a true control deck, you taking the control role means that the stage of the game you seek to prolong is the middle game. This means you want to get to the middle game, which generally means doing such things as not using early Wastelands or Dazes for the first few turns, while you develop your position. Then, when you finally do have the on-board advantage, you want to hold it for as long as possible.
When taking the early game role, you again want to get an on-board advantage and then disrupt your opponent, however this generally will be less involved than when you are trying to prolong the mid-game. For example. against Maverick you generally are behind the first few turns, but then land a Tarmogoyf and an Insectile Aberration after casting a Rough // Tumble to clear their board. Now you want to hold the position. Whereas if you are playing against Reanimator, having a single Insectile Abberation or thresholded Nimble Mongoose means that you are ahead on board, and now you want to use your cantrips to find Wastelands for their mana and counter magic for their combo attempts.
One of the major strengths of this deck is that, while game 1 is often difficult, post board you get to swap out the rusty tools (Lightning Bolt vs. Reanimator) for razor-sharp ones (Tormod’s Crypt). This not only improves your Brainstorms (since you can Ancestral more because the only dead cards are now lands), but also simply makes your deck function like a well oiled machine. I find that I lose about 50% of my game 1s with this deck, but win around 80% of my post board games. However, Legacy is such a wide open format that really any deck could show up, so it is often hard to prepare. Luckily, your game plan is generally effective against everything, because it revolves around disrupting THEIR game-plan. Here are some basic side boarding strategies for the top contenders (please don’t be offended if I don’t list the deck you play as one of them)
Obviously any cards that hose their graveyard are good here. Red/Pyro blasts are also excellent here, not only countering Force of Will, Careful Study and Brainstorm (people let this spell resolve WAY too much), but also countering the Show and Tells and Submerges that they almost certainly bring in against you is excellent. Flusterstorm is also excellent because it hits the same cards as well as Entomb and Thoughtseize (and Exhume if they are playing that over Animate Dead).
The cards I generally side out are the removal package and some number of Tamogoyfs. Since in this matchup, you only need to resolve one threat and ride it to victory, you can usually board out some number of creatures. I board out Tarmogoyf because it is your most expensive threat, tapping you out on a fairly critical turn, but also because it is the most vulnerable to Submerge. If you follow the plan of sculpting your hand to be 1 threat and disruption, you generally can manage to either have Delver(s) and only Volcanic Islands, or Nimble Mongoose(geese) (Ed. Note: mongooses is the accepted form but rarely mongeese is also used) which have shroud.
This matchup is very similar to Reanimator, except their deck is worse against you but you don’t get to bring in the sweet graveyard hosers. Generally, mana denial is much better, and taxing counters are very powerful due to the expense of their spells.
Ancient Grudge is an all-star, as you generally die to Batterskull or Jitte in the games that you lose. As against any blue deck, Red/Pyro Blasts are excellent to counter spells or kill permanents that have somehow snuck by.
I usually board out some Dazes, as games tend to go long due to all their spot removal, and they will generally play around Daze. Tarmogoyf once again is not excellent, since they will be bringing in Path to Exile. I sometimes board out a land or 2(usually Wastelands) depending on their list and how they play their games. Against players who continuously fetch basic lands in the early turns, I will take them out. Against players who continually fetch for Tundras or who have some utility lands, I will keep them in. If I am playing Stifles, I will always keep them in.
There are many schools of thought on how to sideboard in the mirror match. Some players love the Wasteland + Surgical Extraction plan, while others hate it. Many players board out their Delvers, causing their opponent to have an overload of removal (Bolts etc) that are practically dead cards. You can definitely level your opponent by doing some crazy stuff, but I think the most consistent board plan is to bring in Loam, Ooze, Blasts, and Flusterstorm and take out Daze (on the draw), 2 Force of Will (1 less on the draw), and a Bolt or 2, depending on how many you play.
How the games play out is that the early game is all about mana, with both of you disrupting the other one, trading creatures and spells, exchanging Wasteland hits, until it devolves into an attrition war (unless a player has already won while the other stumbled in the first stage). In that stage, cards like Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, and Life from the Loam reign supreme. Submerge always comes in, because it is good in both stages of the game, and combined with an opponent’s fetchland, or your own Thought Scour targeting them, can be an answer for the late game threat of Tarmogoyf.
This is one of the harder game 1 matchups, though the more Forked Bolts you play the better it is. They have many difficult threats, and game 1 your removal suite is often insufficient to answer them all while your mana is being disrupted with Knights + Wastelands +Thalia, and your Delvers and Goyfs are getting Plowed. After board, Submerge helps as a potential answer to Knight, as does Rough // Tumble and/or Mind Harness and/or Sulfur Elemental. Ancient Grudge is good at killing their troublesome equipment (usually Umezawa’s Jitte, but sometimes Batterskull and Sword of Feast and Famine too), and Scavenging Ooze can be another fattie as well as shrinking their Knights. Knowing how to time your spells is key. Force of Wills generally go out on the play, unless you expect to see Choke after board. On the draw, Daze gets the axe. This is a pattern in many other match ups as well, because while on the play, Daze is excellent, it is much worse on the draw. Force of Will is a card that perfectly exchanges cards for tempo, and on the draw a Force of Will, while being a 2 for 1, can regain you the tempo as if you were on the play again.
I ended up playing Threshold at GP Atlanta, and here is the list that Dan Lanthier and I (to a top 64 performance) played:
We were both quite pleased with the list. Here is the logic behind the less obvious card choices:
Thought Scour: With the format becoming faster (like Reanimator’s rise to power), we felt that you needed to make your Mongoose larger, faster. I was not sold on its inclusion, but Pascal and Dan both convinced me, and altogether I was happy to have played them.
Dismember: The list is not playing Spell Snare, so you need an answer to Tarmogoyfs and other large creatures. Also, Dismember is usually good enough to kill a Griselbrand out of Reanimator if you attack with your team and they block (which they have to).
Flusterstorm: This slot was the 4th Spell Pierce, but in most situations Flusterstorm is a superior Spell Pierce. It is awesome at winning counter wars, and is very unexpected. I would rather draw 1 Spell Pierce and 1 Flusterstorm than 2 Spell Pierces, since when you are casting them all the storm count will increase, making you able to Flusterstorm for more. It also WILL counter their spell, even through Daze or Force of Will, say if they play turn 1 Entomb with Underground Sea, they would need to have double counter spell backup to stop your Flusterstorm. However, being able to counter Umezawa’s Jitte, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Animate Dead meant that the flexibility of Spell Pierce was needed more.
Snapcaster Mage: While this deck tries to stay on 2 lands, that is not always possible, and the occasional game you would Brainstorm away the excess lands but still have more and no Brainstorms. Snapcaster was effectively a 5th Brainstorm (or a 5th Lightning Bolt to finish them off), but also had added utility because of the Thought Scours and the 1 of Dismember or Flusterstorm.
Rough // Tumble: This is a catch all sideboard card for random decks that show up, such as Goblins and Elves, as well as being excellent against Maverick. I wouldn’t cut it. It is played over Pyroclasm because it doesn’t kill your flipped Delvers.
Grafdigger’s Cage/Surgical Extraction/Tormod’s Crypt: I like the split, though I would make the change to play another Grafdigger’s Cage over a Surgical, because it is less vulnerable to Thoughtseize. A mix is good because it makes it harder for them to play around, and makes cards like Pithing Needle (on Tormod’s Crypt) less devastating.
Life from the Loam: This is against grindy, heavy non-basic control decks, but primarily the mirror match. When recurring Wastelands is strong and not too slow, this card really shines. Has synergy with Thought Scour too.
Submerge: Fairly obvious inclusion, but would just like to point out something a lot of people didn’t seem to know at the GP: this card works quite well with Thought Scour on the opponent. It becomes a hard removal spell.
Thanks for reading, and may you always meet the threshold!