Card: Orcish Lumberjack | Art: Dan Frazier
Welcome back to Curt’s “Where I try to take a budget Legacy deck for a spin!” We’ve upped the ante a little bit and are test-driving a deck that has a higher entry point compared to the last Legacy deck I wrote about (LED-less Dredge).
Applejacks may be a bit obscure to some. When I learned of this deck earlier this year, I had to Google it and then be selective about what I read. What is true Applejacks?
Applejacks, as a deck archetype, has taken many forms over the years from straight-up Gruul to Naya, to Jund. The common theme is that this is a quick mana ramp deck using Orcish Lumberjack. I will cover a predominantly Gruul version here.
This time around my 12-year-old son has been the pilot, and for the past several months, we have been working through kinks, assembling pieces, and playtesting against a variety of aggro, midrange, and combo decks.
I will confess the deck being previewed is not the best version of itself due to the "budget" nature. But it punches above its weight and can hang with the best in the format given a favorable draw. There are some obvious upgrades for those with deeper pockets than I, and we will get to those in a section at the end. Even in this state, though, the deck gives you a fighting chance.
Without further ado, onto the deck!
Budget Legacy Applejacks Plan of Attack
The game plan is to get one, or many, big stompers out as quickly as possible to overwhelm the opponent. Singling out one plan of attack with this deck is not simple as there is a multitude of ways to wear your opponent down. I will cover each here.
Titania, Protector of Argoth, is perhaps the most famous beater associated with Applejacks. She is a 5/3 creature, formidable on her own, but if her special ability is taken advantage of, you can build a small army of 5/3 creatures to pair with her.
Greater Gargadon, paired with Titania, is another big hitter, although getting it onto the battlefield early takes some work. Suspend-10 on its face isn't an ability on a card that should reside in a Legacy deck. More on this in the next section.
Ruination Rioter is a backup plan in this deck, but if you can resolve Titania, while you have a Greater Gargadon on the battlefield, sac’ing the Rioter after dumping land into the graveyard is a great way to deal a significant amount of damage to your opponent. It may be that last piece you need to close out a game too.
Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes is the new kid on the block in terms of beaters for the Applejacks archetype. M&B abruptly entered the scene this year thanks to the Baldur’s Gate Commander expansion set. The Planeswalker creates Boo, a hasty little creature token each turn and gives it the ability to quickly grow into a fearsome creature. There is also a built-in card draw engine, something very helpful for the Gruul archetype. M&B on its own presents a threat that must be answered every turn.
Budget Legacy Applejacks Supporting Cast
Applejacks' namesake comes from Orcish Lumberjack, who is very nearly a Black Lotus for Gruul decks. Lumberjack can power out big bad creatures very early, enabling you to take advantage of your lands to ramp into bigger threats.
Green Sun’s Zenith, much like other decks in Legacy, is used to go find helpers. In this deck, we have included one Dryad Arbor to help with ramp in the early game. If you are not fortunate to achieve this on the first turn, fear not, for there are many other targets in the deck.
Veteran Explorer is another creature that is included to ramp. This is a creature you want to sacrifice to the Gargadon as early as possible. Explorer comes with a tradeoff though, as it enables your opponent to go fetch a couple of lands. However, in a format filled with non-basic land cards, there is the chance your opponent may not be able to go and get two lands anyway. In any case, the ramp for you comes with the game plan.
Endurance and Fury are included for obvious reasons. In Legacy, having a way to deal with an opponent’s graveyard is crucial. Fury is one of the best creature and planeswalker removal spells in the format. With the abundance of red cards, pitching an extra Gargadon in hand is usually the best way to evoke Fury.
Elvish Spirit Guide is another pitching mana-dork for the deck and may help early on. In play testing, we also used Simian Spirit Guide and while they are both valuable, the ability to pitch ESG on turn one to a Green Sun’s Zenith won out. We have also played them as a pitch to an early game Daze from the opponent, so it can be advantageous to have one in hand early on without a way to use it if you are facing off against a known blue deck opponent.
An interesting inclusion to this deck is Mawloc. The Universes Beyond 40K creature is a great target of an early to mid-game Green Sun’s Zenith to take care of pesky creatures such as Delver of Secrets, any number of white bears, and other two toughness creatures your opponent is using to fowl up the gameplan. I find Mawloc to be even more useful with White Stompy becoming a force in the format.
Lastly, a suite of Once Upon a Time is included to help direct the game plan in the early turns.
A Good Opening Hand
During playtesting, a friend called this a Glass Cannon type of deck; and he was right. There are games where Applejacks comes out fighting and the opponent wilts within a couple of turns. Then there are games where you draw two Gargadons, Endurance, and Minsc & Boo in the first couple of turns and are left wondering where your other tools are at.
A good first turn usually is comprised of one or two green mana sources, a GSZ, a Once Upon a Time, and a Greater Gargadon. This will allow you to lay down the basics and start piling up the resources to set your plan in motion.
Alternatively, a hand with at least one red and one green mana source and an Orcish Lumberjack, accompanied by a Minsc & Boo is usually enough for a second turn beating via M&B. This can buy you some time to bring in some of the other tools. If you are able to keep M&B out for a couple of turns, that is usually enough to divert your opponent’s resources so you can set up alternative win-cons.
A Better Opening Hand
There will come a point in the game where, if you are lucky to have resolved M&B, a Gargadon, and have ticked down a couple of counters, resolving Titania basically ends the game. Unless your opponent is running Terminus or other such board sweeps, they're most likely not going to be able to deal with the board state after you have sacrificed five lands to Gargadon, generating five 5/3 creatures off of Titania, and then whatever else you have to feed to Gargadon resulting in a 9/7 creature. If a Ruination Rioter is among the “whatever else” you feed to the Gargadon, you may have won outright.
The game plan against fair, midrange, or control decks is fairly straightforward. Work as hard as possible to execute the game plan described above. If you’ve squared off with a blue mage, be selective in what you cast knowing that there is a good chance it may be countered. In some games, you will be able to absorb a counter and still keep on moving forward.
The game plan against combo decks can be a bit more chaotic, predictably. Since we were not able to brew with blue or white in this deck, counterspells or cheap creature removal aren’t easily accessed. In our playtesting, being able to load up on things like Red Elemental Blast helped out, as did Choke against blue mages. On its own, a resolved Choke against UR Delver nearly ends the game. In the second and third matches, aggressively sideboarding to find a card that helps disrupt combo decks is essential. Believe it or not, we were able to take down Sneak and Show with the budget version covered in this article, simply by sideboarding and being selective about what we let resolve and what not.
While this deck plays like a combo deck at times, it’s an Aggro deck, pretending to be a midrange deck.
Budget Legacy Applejacks Mana Base
The mana base in the deck being previewed is quite vanilla. The only thing exotic here is Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth. There is also only one Wooded Foothills and to be honest, the deck could use a full suite of these. At the time of this writing, we just haven’t been able to tuck the bucks aside to buy them. Part of why we call this the Budget Legacy column. A two-color deck in Legacy, without dual lands, almost sounds like giving up to begin with. Yavimaya and Orcish Lumberjack significantly aid in narrowing the gap, however.
All jokes aside, a couple of copies of Taiga would open up the possibilities, as would some of the other exotic lands such as Boseiju, Who Endures. Over time we will pick up those pieces and they will be another tool that narrows the gap between the budget deck and the higher-end deck.
Budget Legacy Applejacks Sideboard
The sideboard contains some gems and being able to pull them in as part of your defense against your local meta will be key in whether you’re a game-one wonder, or able to pull out the match win more frequently.
As I described above, Choke is incredible against blue decks, effectively locking them out. They may be spending resources countering your GSZ spells to fetch mana dorks, or dealing with the Lumberjack, and they may not be anticipating your Choke or Carpet of Flowers.
The rest of the cast are the usual suspects of red and green and can be utilized interchangeably depending on what sort of deck you are up against.
The outlier here is Plummet. In our playtest group, Murktide Regent features prominently and it's there to respect those threats, among others. Along with the green artifact hate, these are among the weakest cards in the sideboard and could benefit from some improvements such as Force of Vigor.
As with other things in our budget frame of mind, when the funds become available, we will upgrade.
Budget Applejacks Versus the Meta
Our playtest group consists of several decks popular in the Legacy meta right now. UR Murktide, Sneak & Show, Elves, BUG Delver, and Doomsday.
As I said above, this deck stands a puncher’s chance at going toe to toe with any of the decks mentioned above. Sometimes it takes a good draw, or the right sideboard substitution to make it work. With blue being so prevalent in the format, Choke and Carpet of Flowers are essential and truly valuable inclusions.
The weakest match-ups are against combo decks. Since this deck does not run blue, counter spells do not work. And since we do not have white, we cannot run the sorts of disruption that we could take advantage of.
The best bet is to stick to your game plan, utilize Fury and Endurance selectively, and Mawloc as a surprise option. Your opponent is not likely to anticipate Mawloc being used as a target for GSZ and is another piece of creature removal at your disposal. In the later game, you can also hard-cast it for a larger amount and deal with bigger creatures. As this is a card that hasn’t made it to MTGO at the time of this writing, it may be flying under the radar at your LGS.
I have pointed out along the way that there are places where this deck can be significantly upgraded. Three more copies of Wooded Foothills are the priority. A Taiga would also be a good inclusion. Thinking longer range, splashing white to take advantage of Swords to Plowshares would be nice as well, but diversifying with additional dual lands starts to push this deck far out of budget range. At least with Taiga, it is among the lower-cost dual lands available.
Although not what I would classify as upgrades, we did try out some other cards that did not make the final cut but may be worthy of inclusion in your local meta.
We play-tested with Fireblast in this brew but ultimately did not make the cut. Combined with Ramunap Excavator, it can a low-risk, high-reward removal spell. However, between Mawloc and Ruination Rioter, there are several direct-damage outlets and they were included as targets of GSZ. Dismember would also be a great spell to include.
We built this deck earlier this year right before Minsc & Boo jumped on the popularity rollercoaster. It was a great upgrade for my son from his Mono-Black Depths deck I wrote about several months back.
It can absorb more punishment and deal with more than an all-black deck and has managed to hold my twelve-year-old son’s attention for several months.
The bar for entry into this deck is fairly low at just under $500 which, for a Legacy deck, is not bad. It could benefit from several upgrades but in this version, is still playable and results in a deck that you can enjoy, while tucking some bucks aside to upgrade to a stronger version.
Happy Apple Picking!
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