Why You Should Play Baleful Strix: Part 1
Looking at the current Meta, the two most played decks are control decks. One of them plays four copies of Baleful Strix, but why? A 1/1 isn't that impressive in Legacy. Well Christopher is here to tell you what Strix is the perfect card for control and why you should be playing it!
The fact that the Legacy meta shifts very slowly and that Grixis Control is a tier 1 deck is not news. The deck grinds out pretty much any deck and generates card advantage in nearly every situation. I want to focus on just one card from that and many other lists though - Baleful Strix - and why I think it's good and why you should play it.
A Dirty Little Bird
To understand my point of view, we should take a look at the card itself. Two mana is perfectly acceptable for Legacy, the color combination of Blue and Black are very playable. Blue is, of course, the most played color in Legacy and is well suited to control and card draw. Black gives Blue control alternate avenues for stabilizing through discard and direct removal.
The 1/1 body itself is weak, justifying neither the mana cost or the two-color cost.
Flying is nice, but it's the combination with deathtouch that makes the body of this cantrip what it is. A two mana 1/1 blocker who blocks nearly everything and trades in nearly every situation… that sounds fair. Wait what? I get to draw a card, too? Ok, now we're talking.
The card draw gives two benefits: First, it replaces the creature and, second, it thins out the deck.
By replacing the played creature, Baleful Strix will always generate card advantage when it trades or gets hit by single target removal. Is card advantage that important though?
Card Advantage and Where You Find It
To understand where and why card advantage is important, we have to understand the way aggro and control decks work.
Let's take a look at the most common version of "aggro" in Legacy: tempo.
UB Shadow by Lauri Törnström
|2Bloodstained Mire||4Death's Shadow||4Brainstorm|
|2Flooded Strand||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||4Daze|
|1Marsh Flats||2Gurmag Angler||1Dismember|
|1Misty Rainforest||4Street Wraith||2Fatal Push|
|1Scalding Tarn||4Force of Will|
|3Watery Grave||2Stubborn Denial|
|1Diabolic Edict||2Dread of Night||1Flusterstorm|
|2Hymn to Tourach||1Infernal Contract||2Liliana, the Last Hope|
|1Marsh Casualties||1Nihil Spellbomb||2Ratchet Bomb|
This is an example list of the most played tempo deck right now: U/B Death Shadow. Tempo decks (also named "Delver decks") usually operate on a small mana base and do not need more than 2-3 lands in play. They play cheap threads like Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration and protect them with cheap counter magic and/or cheap removal spells. Wasteland helps them to delay the early game long enough to win the game before their opponent can play their game plan.
To summarize, the strength of tempo decks is early pressure in combination with early one-for-one-trading to keep their opponents off their strategy.
Here is an example of the most common control deck: Grixis Control
Grixis Control by Victor Logan
|3Bloodstained Mire||2Gurmag Angler||2Diabolic Edict|
|2Island||3Snapcaster Mage||2Fatal Push|
|4Polluted Delta||4Force of Will|
|3Scalding Tarn||3Hymn to Tourach|
|2Swamp||1Inquisition of Kozilek|
|3Underground Sea||3Kolaghan's Command|
|2Volcanic Island||2Lightning Bolt|
|3Jace, the Mind Sculptor|
|1Liliana, the Last Hope|
|2Blood Moon||2Flusterstorm||1Liliana, the Last Hope|
|1Marsh Casualties||1Pithing Needle||2Pyroblast|
|1Red Elemental Blast||3Surgical Extraction||1Toxic Deluge|
If we compare this decklist with the tempo deck from earlier, we notice some differences. The land count is higher, as is the mana curve.
We also see a list of spells that create card advantage by replacing themselves or trade two-for-one: Snapcaster Mage, Hymn to Tourach, Kolaghan's Command etc. … and of course our little friend Baleful Strix. The combination of these cards allows for a strategy where you trade resources with your opponent and in every trade, you gain a small advantage. This advantage results in a slowly growing control over the game.
In other words, Strix, and card advantage more generally, is better for longer games. It doesn't give you an immediate advantage over your opponent like killing one of their creatures or reducing their life total. As such, it's at home in control decks, and so is our friendly neighborhood Strix.
The Importance of Baleful Strix in Control Decks
With this established, I want to highlight one important fact: Control decks naturally struggle versus aggro decks in the early turns. Against aggro decks, their one and only aim is to survive long enough to build a clear resource advantage and board control, as the aggro deck is attacking them on a direct axis (life total and permanents on the board), whereas they attack their opponents on an indirect axis (creating a stable board and generating card advantage).
One way for control decks to fight aggro decks in the early game is cheap removal to handle the threats of aggro decks. While this is a good and common strategy, you are only trading one-for-one with most of these spells and while overloading your deck with cheap removal does give you an advantage against aggro decks, it also gives you a clear disadvantage versus control and combo decks.
As mentioned before, Baleful Strix's deathtouch and flying abilities allows it to work as the perfect blocker. Aggro decks needs either to trade Baleful Strix with their threats or use removal on it. Both scenarios leave you one card up on the previous situation, letting you have your cake and eat it too. To summarize, the little bird does a perfect job against all aggressive decks by delaying the game and digging for more answers.
You would think this means the bird is poor against control decks, as there is nothing to trade with. And while the little bird is rarely great against control, it's never a dead draw like other anti-aggro cards like Fatal Push. Worst case scenario, it's a two mana 1/1 beater with card draw… which still sounds fine to me.
A Short Summary
Baleful Strix is a very strong card against aggressive decks and functions decently against control. The main duty of the little bird is to delay the game long enough to let the card-advantage engine do its work.
In my next article, we analyze the current meta and the role of Strix in certain matchups. I also want to take a look at the weaknesses of the bird and its role against combo decks.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.