Why You Should Play Baleful Strix in Legacy Part 2
- Christopher Brunner
We've seen the card and it's strenghts, now Christopher looks at the card's weaknesses and the current Legacy metagame, right down to how it performs in the individual matchups that you're likely to encounter.
Two weeks ago, we analyzed the card Baleful Strix in detail. The conclusion: Baleful Strix is a two-drop which offers a powerful combination of keyword abilities and a card-draw effect. The combination of deathtouch and flying allows it to block nearly every creature and trade with it. The fact that it cantrips means it replaces itself. From here, it follows that blocking a creature and trading leaves you with an extra card. In other words, you generate card advantage.
But with such power, why isn't it played in every deck?
Baleful Strix Weaknesses
Firstly, if a card is played in every deck, that card is probably too strong for the format and would be a hot candidate for the next ban announcement, like Mental Misstep a few years ago. The flexibility of Phyrexian mana allowed Mental Misstep in decks without any blue source. This brings me to the first major weakness of Baleful Strix: The mana cost.
Not the converted mana cost - two is quite fair - but the combination of two colors. Having multicolored cards always limits you in deckbuilding. Since Baleful Strix is a card you want to play as early as possible against aggro decks, you need to have access to blue and black mana in the first two to three turns. Having this mana combination that early in the game makes splashing one of the two colors complicated and definitely not worthwhile.
Based on that fact, Baleful Strix basically locks you to Dimir colors with the potential to add a third color to your Deck. When we take a look to decks with copies of Strix in it, we always see three colored decks with nearly any blue-black based combination: Grixis control adds red, Sultai midrange / Sultai control adds green and Esper Blade adds white.
The second (and biggest) weakness of Baleful Strix is simply being a 1/1. While being a blocker with deathtouch, having only one attack power doesn't matter at all. Dealing one damage per attack is far away from anything I'd call pressure, making Baleful Strix a pure defensive tool in control or midrange decks. With the goal to make games go long and surviving early turns, Strix fits perfectly in games where your opponent wants to play a creature-based beatdown plan.
But in games against combo decks, where you have to be aggressive, the little bird starts to struggle. Combo decks just want to have enough time to kill you in one turn. The best strategy versus these kinds of decks is pressuring them by having attack power on the board and / or having disruptive elements like discard spells or counterspells.
Baleful Strix has neither. Since most combo decks don't win via combat damage, Strix's flying and deathtouch abilities become nearly irrelevant and its one power doesn't help either. The only upside is drawing one card and digging deeper for real answers like counterspells or sideboard cards.
To summarize all this, Baleful Strix is strong against aggro and midrange decks, does okay-good versus control decks, but struggles hard against combo decks. We can infer, therefore, that Baleful Strix shines in an aggressive meta, but is not the best choice in a combo-heavy meta.
The Current Metagame
Legacy metagame can be separated into three categories: aggro, control, and combo.
When you look at the past two months, aggro decks are the biggest fraction with 38%, control the second with 32% and combo the smallest with 30%.
The most played decks are:*
Death & Taxes (5%)
Death's Shadow (4%)
Grixis Control (9%)
4c Loam (5%)
Show and Tell (7%)
*Data collected based on MTGtop8 results in early November
While all three categories are fairly similar in total percentage, the fact that Aggro is clearly the favorite and that two of the most played combo decks win with attacking creatures points to Strix being quite powerful in the current meta. But we should analyze the role of Baleful Strix in each matchup to really understand the power of this card.
Grading Baleful Strix in Certain Matchups
To analyze the role of Baleful Strix in the current meta, it's necessary to look at the card's role in certain matchups. We'll use the school grading system from A to F.
Eldrazi is an aggressive, creature-based deck that uses lands like Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, and Eldrazi Temple to play Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher in Turn 2 or 3. Smaller Eldrazi like Eldrazi Mimic or Endless One try to pressure the opponent as early as possible.
Since the deck plays very few removal (normally 1-2 Dismember and 2-4 Walking Ballista), Baleful Strix can slow this game perfectly, since your opponent doesn't want to trade a little bird with his Seer or Smasher. Eldrazi runs out of gas quickly, so surviving the early turns gives you a significant advantage here.
Against Death & Taxes
Baleful Strix does a good job holding back their Flickerwisp and Batterskull, but struggles against a Thalia, an Umezawa's Jitte with counters on it, and Mirran Crusader. Additionally, every creature could gain protection from black or blue because of Mother of Runes.
Against Death's Shadow
UB Death's Shadow is a tempo deck that reduces its own life total with Thoughtseize, Street Wraith, and Watery Grave so they can play a big Death's Shadow. Adding Delver of Secrets and Gurmag Angler to the list, this deck creates a ton of early pressure.
Because Angler and Death's Shadow can't be killed by that many removal spells, Baleful Strix shines here and is one of your strongest cards in this matchup. Unlike Eldrazi, however, Death's Shadow has more removal and counterspells to handle the Strix.
Against Miracles and Grixis Control
I bundle these two matchups here, because the role of Baleful Strix is nearly the same. Both decks try to generate card advantage with cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Terminus, Kholagan's Command, and Baleful Strix. Both decks don't play many creatures, so the main duty of the little bird here is digging a bit further through the deck and be annoying to the players and planeswalkers by attacking for one.
Loam is a control deck based on creatures and lands. This deck attacks from many directions. Life from the Loam in combination with Wasteland slowly destroys your mana base. Punishing Fire removes small creatures and can be added from graveyard back to hand by using Grove of the Burnwillows. Knight of the Reliquary searches the deck for utility lands like Karakas or Maze of Ith.
This deck wins through combat damage, which means Baleful Strix should be a good way to deal with the deck, but Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows make sure that the little bird won't stay on the battlefield long enough to block their attacks.
Against Show and Tell
Sneak and Show is an UR combo deck, that cheats Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Griselbrand with Sneak Attack or Show and Tell into play. Having access to City of Traitors and Ancient Tomb makes this deck very fast.
Baleful Strix is just not very good versus this deck. It lets you dig a bit more for a better answer and could block Griselbrand, but Griselbrands main job here is drawing cards to find an Emrakul and his annihilation-trigger will blow the little bird out of his way.
Storm's strategy is playing as many spells as possible in one turn and killing its opponent with Tendrils of Agony. Without any interaction, this deck can kill safely in turn 2-4.
Storm doesn't play creatures which makes Baleful Strix basically a 1/1 with draw effect for two mana, which is not nearly good enough. After Game 1, you should side this card out.
Similar to Show and Tell, Baleful Strix is too slow to be a threat here, but Reanimator decks have very few tools to handle Baleful Strix. Maindeck, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Tidespout Tyrant are their only way to get Strix off the battlefield. After they put a Griselbrand into play and draw 7-14 cards, however, they should have a way to put one of them into play on the next turn.
As mentioned before, Baleful Strix shines in an aggro-heavy metagame like the current one. As of this article's writing, that is the meta we're in, so the bird does great. Even if these number switch though, as long as aggro and control together make up a significant majority of the metagame, Strix should perform admirably in your control decks, giving you a favored matchup game 1 against aggro, leaving more room in the side for control and combo matchups.
I personally love this card and definitely will play it in the current meta.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.