Brewer's Paradise - Revisiting Pack Rat in Legacy [Ty Thomason - Archmage, Level 46]
Towards the end of Pack Rat’s domination of Standard, many players began to experiment with the once over-looked card in other formats. Tad Macaraeg and others had some success with it in the Modern format, but I went one step further and attempted to bring it to Legacy.
my apologies to everyone who likes legacy pic.twitter.com/cLJIo4boeF
— Ty Thomason (@ceciliajupe) August 21, 2014
We all quickly discovered that Pack Rat was not the force to be reckoned with that it was in Standard. While our attempts may have been more to frustrate opponents who were tired of losing to the Rat round after round, I learned quite a bit from the process. Today, I’ll be going over some of the things I learned as well as presenting one of the more recent experimentations.
Why play Pack Rat?
One of my favorite concepts in deck building is the idea of different Axes of Attack. The best example is Standard-era CawBlade. The deck could beat you by using Stoneforge Mystic to find Batterskull or various swords. It could also beat you just by playing a bunch of Squadron Hawks and protecting them with countermagic. Or it could beat you by acting as a control deck centered on Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Having three different plans allowed the deck to take the best role for the matchup, and it also made it very resilient to the opponent’s actions. Diversifying your threats makes it much harder for your opponent to negate your plan with sideboard cards.
Pack Rat as a threat is not the fastest, most disruptive, most resilient, or hardest to answer. But it does present a unique challenge for opponents to answer. Relying on 1-for-1 spot removal to answer creatures like Delver of Secrets or Dark Confidant won’t be as effective. Graveyard hate, like Rest in Peace creating Virtual Card Advantage against threats like Deathrite Shaman and Tarmogoyf, won’t stop Pack Rat. By using Pack Rat in conjunction with a diverse set of threats, you add an Axis of Attack to your deck that could be useful.
What are the drawbacks of Pack Rat?
Pack Rat is slow by Legacy standards. Without Mutavault, the clock it presents is slightly slower than a fully powered up Tarmogoyf. It also requires a huge commitment of resources every turn. Pack Rat is also black. I think black is one of the worst colors in Legacy, maybe even the stone worst. Pinpoint discard like Thoughtseize is not as good in a format where Brainstorm is the most played card. Also, the power level of decks is so high that opponents are much more likely to topdeck something good. Liliana is expensive in a format with Daze and Wasteland.
Cards to Play with Pack Rat
While Thoughtseize may be the best set up card for Pack Rat in Standard and Modern, I don’t think it's necessarily needed in Legacy. Since we're using Pack Rat to supplement other threats, we can use those threats to act as disruption, drawing out the removal that would normally go towards Pack Rat. Once both players are out of gas, Pack Rat can come down and take over the game. Discard might still be wanted to disrupt the lightning quick combo decks of the format, but it shouldn’t be relied upon to set up the horde.
Dark Confidant is Pack Rat’s best friend. He shares a color and provides the additional cards to create more rats. He also acts as a lightning rod for removal. Liliana is also very good with Pack Rat. You can use her +1 ability after discarding to Pack Rat every turn, so you will gain Card Advantage.
Cards that can be used from the graveyard also have synergy with Pack Rat. Lingering Souls, Punishing Fire, and Life from the Loam are all great compliments to Pack Rat. It’s important to remember that Pack Rat itself is a compliment to other strategies, so loading your deck full of these will just slow down your deck past the point of playability.
Mutavault is always a card to consider, but Legacy really emphasizes the need for colored mana sources with the prevalence of Wasteland. Mutavault could be right if you want to play a large number of lands (22+).
Some Pack Rat Brews
BG Pack Rat - Ty Thomason
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Treetop Village
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
This was my first Pack Rat brew. It's based on Modern Jund and other BGx decks but really playing up the disruption and aggressiveness. It looks like it shares a lot of cards with recent BUG Delver lists, and Pack Rat might just be a worse Delver of Secrets. This would be the best deck to try Mutavault in.
BW Pack Rat - Ty Thomason
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Marsh Flats
2 Windswept Heath
I love Stoneforge Mystic, but she isn’t the best with Pack Rat. Abrupt Decay versus Swords to Plowshares is an interesting swap and depends on the metagame you expect. There are probably better Abzan lists and definitely better Stoneforge lists.
Shardless BUG Rat - Ty Thomason
1 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Polluted Delta
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Tropical Island
4 Underground Sea
Drawing lots of cards with Ancestral Visions and Jace is a good way to fuel Pack Rat. Without Force of Will (not enough blue cards plus non-bo with Pack Rat), you might need more disruption cards. I haven’t played enough with this to know if it’s good or not. Shardless BUG probably doesn’t need more ways to win the long, grindy games.
Chalice Jund - Ty Thomason
1 Barren Moor
1 Tranquil Thicket
2 Bloodstained Mire
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Wooded Foothills
This is the latest brew I have. I based it off of the Punishing Abzan lists that have done well lately. The manabase is more forgiving since it’s only three colors. Tarmogoyf is actually great in these decks, but Pack Rat is not as good as Knight of the Reliquary. Not having access to Gaddock Teeg is also a negative. This deck can still be a force in the metagame because Chalice of the Void is that strong. Pack Rat and Life from the Loam are good together, but Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage might be better uses of Loam. This is somewhere between Jund and Lands, and I’m not sure it needs to exist. It's fun if you like making rats every turn. The list might need a Volrath’s Stronghold, probably as a 25th land.
So maybe Pack Rat won’t ever change the Legacy landscape. But it’s still a uniquely powerful card to keep in mind when building a deck. And if you really love making rats, it's not so bad to hurt your deck significantly. Perhaps focusing on it less can increase its success. Adding in one or two to an existing deck won’t hurt the consistency and will add a new dimension. Maybe you'll be the one to find the perfect home for the card in Legacy. Good luck brewing!
What do you think about the Rat brews? Have any of your own? We'd love to hear from you.
A Little Bit about Ty
He's been playing Magic since Ice Age; competitively since Onslaught. Ty's a veteran of 6 Pro Tours and has over a dozen money finishes at Grand Prix tournaments. His favorite formats are Sealed Deck and Legacy, but he'll play anything as long as it’s Magic!