A strange thought occurred to me the other day, when a friend asked me to look over a new brew of his: I love playing Legacy because of all the complex card interactions and I love playing Standard because the format changes significantly enough every few months that you can brew totally new decks. If we were to go all the way back to when I first started playing the game in middle school (mind you, I took a very lengthy break), brewing was my favorite part of the game. I’ve always had a strong inner Johnny (slightly ironic that I possess no trace of Timmy, despite my name), wanting to win, but strictly on my own terms. It’s why I refused for so long to pick up Caw-Blade when I first re-entered the game, and instead, try to grind people into submission with ridiculous Super Friends lists. That Johnny got Spikier and Spikier, and eventually succumbed to netdecking quite often, but I still do enjoy occasionally brewing in Standard. For whatever reason, though, I never really brewed in Legacy. (It’s probably due to the intimidating size of the card pool AND meta.) Sure, I do plenty of tinkering and tweaking with my lists, and get them to a precise 75 that I’m happy with, but I’ve never really brewed. I can really only think of two instances in Legacy where I found myself putting on my brewer’s hat, and neither instance was what I’d call a full-fledged homebrew.

So, why suddenly start talking about brewing, now? I guess we can somewhat blame Drew Levin, who has been posting a lot of new and/or unorthodox lists over on the premium side of SCG, as of late. His Planeswalker Control and 5-Color Pyromancer-Opposition lists really got the gears in my head turning, not in such a way that I got ideas from those specific lists but just in the sense that there is a lot we can be doing that we aren’t doing that may actually be good! The card I’ve really been interested in getting to resolve, ever since I completely excluded him from my Theros Eternal Review, is Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.

There are a few initial questions we need to ask ourselves about our strange, half-headed (I guess we can call that half of a head, right?) new friend before we can go about jamming him into our lists. I think the best way to go about this is to use a little tool that hearkens back to my business school days called a SWOT Analysis. For the uninitiated, SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Here’s some shameless lifting of material from Wikipedia to help you understand it better:

  • Strengths: characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others
  • Weaknesses: are characteristics that place the team at a disadvantage relative to others
  • Opportunities: elements that the project could exploit to its advantage
  • Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project

Here’s a good way to visualize it:

Helpful and harmful are obvious terms, but what about Internal and External? For Internal attributes, we are talking about the text printed on the actual card. When we talk about External attributes, we’re talking about the metagame, itself, as well as how Ashiok fits in with the rest of the deck; in other words, we are referring to everything that is NOT printed on the card that makes it good or bad. Now that we have all of that explained, let’s get started on our analysis!


  • Low converted mana cost
  • Immediately gets to five loyalty
  • Can protect himself with -X ability
  • +2 ability simultaneously helps to build up the -X ability as well as acting as a win condition
  • Ashiok’s “milling” sends cards to exile rather than graveyard
  • -X ability acts as a win condition


  • Requires two colors
  • Can only use one ability the turn he comes into play
  • +2 ability does not impact the board
  • -X ability is useless until the +2 hits something


  • Blue card! P!7CH3z 2 F0RC3! Sorry, had to start with that one
  • Can reliably be cast on turn two with either two lands and a mana dork or a Sol land and a signet
  • Threatens to end the game (for all intents and purposes) against most combo decks on the fourth turn after being cast
  • If protected for a full turn cycle against most creature-based “fair” decks, you will bury your opponent in card advantage, barring miserable luck with your mills
  • Prevents decks running Brainstorm from hiding their good stuff when you cast a discard spell


  • Low converted mana cost can double as a liability due to Abrupt Decay
  • Loses head-on to Jace; Jace will bounce any creatures Ashiok puts into play, and then the Jace player will cast those creatures and use them to beat down the defenseless Ashiok
  • The control-hosing ultimate doesn’t really do much to hose the dominant control deck of the format, Miracles, which doesn’t need its graveyard and doesn’t mind being in topdeck mode

So what was the point of this exercise? What did we learn here? Ashiok comes down early, but he needs you to give him time. Once you give him time, he gets very strong. Unless they have Abrupt Decay. If we play a reasonable amount of removal, Ashiok will go to town on the fair decks by ticking up and down and forcing them to fight their own creatures all the way while we continue to establish our game plan, whatever that may be. Against creature-light decks, he should be able to do his job if we back him up with discard. As it happens, discard and removal are two things that black is pretty decent against. I think a rough draft of a straight UB Ashiok-based shell deck could look something like this (started throwing together a “shell” and once I was beyond 20 cards, I just said, “Screw it, let’s build a deck”):

UB Ashiok Control

Planeswalkers (8)
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Liliana of the Veil

Creatures (4)
Trinket Mage
Baleful Strix

Spells (25)
Chrome Mox
Crucible of Worlds
Engineered Explosives
Force of Will
Spell Pierce
Innocent Blood
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lands (23)
Academy Ruins
Creeping Tar Pit
Marsh Flats
Mishra’s Factory
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Underground Sea

Sideboard (15)
Force of Will
Grafdigger’s Cage
Hymn to Tourach
Nihil Spellbomb
Liliana of the Veil
Pithing Needle
Relic of Progenitus
Swan Song
Virtue’s Ruin

If you were wondering, yes, I did borrow some ideas from this Caleb list. I was never really a fan of that list, back in June, but I think a lot of the things he was doing carry over well for working with Ashiok. I thought the Trinket Mage package was a nice toolkit to have access to. I also liked his mana-denial angle with the Stifles and Wastes, but I am not 100% sure if that’s where I’d like to be. To be honest, I’ve also been working on Grixis and Ana version, and particularly like the makeup of the Ana list, with Deathrite to accelerate your three-drop walkers out on turn two and my least favorite card ever, Abrupt Decay. It’s still a work in progress, as it feels like it’s trying to do too many things and I’m having trouble narrowing down which direction I want to go with it. Unfortunately, I probably won’t have much time to test these lists out between now and DC, since I’ll be focused mostly on Miracles. Yes, I know the deck inside and out, but sometimes I catch myself making small mistakes and costing myself serious percentage points over the course of a match that I need to work out of my game. I also have somewhat limited time for MtG until the middle of December, but at least by then, we’ll have a price drop on MODO Underground Seas (thank you MOCS promos; now can we get LED promos, please??), so I’ll go ahead pick up my playset. If anyone else has been experimenting with Ashiok in Legacy, or even Modern, please sound off in the comments, as I’m eager to hear what everyone else thinks of the newest three-mana Planeswalker!

“Evil” Tim Akpinar is one of Brooklyn’s finest durdlers. If there’s a top-tier control deck in the meta, you can bet he’s spent a minute taking it apart to see what makes it tick. If it wraths and draws cards, “Evil” Tim Akpinar approves. You can find Tim on Twitter/Twitch @efil4zaknupome or on MODO under the username ziggy_stardust. 

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