Stonecoil Serpent in Steel Stompy
Hey everyone. My regularly-scheduled content was delayed a bit due to a long work trip, but I’m happy to be back! Throne of Eldraine has unleashed several new cards into the Legacy format, wonderfully evaluated by PVDH (found here), but today I just want to talk about the new snake in Steel Stompy.
Artifact Creature - Snake
Reach, trample, protection from multicolored
Stonecoil Serpent enters the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters on it.
Why Is It Good?
There are some adages in Legacy concerning things that used to be true. As the format has evolved over the years, the adage no longer holds, yet people keep saying it. A great example of this is “Force of Will is bad in fair versus fair deck matchups.” When almost every card was answerable with a single card, trading 2-for-1 was a bad deal. Current legacy fair deck mirrors, however, are filled with so many game-winning haymakers that answering one opposing card with two of your own is perfectly fine, provided that card was going to beat you once resolved.
The other adage (the on-topic one) is about Chalice of the Void and Delver decks. Delver decks are full of 1-drops. Chalice of the Void prevents 1-drops from resolving. Ergo, Chalice decks have good Delver matchups. Right?
Wrong. Unfortunately for Chalice players, the Chalice itself is as weak as it’s ever been in this matchup. Delver decks are all about the critical 2-drops, such as Tarmogoyf or Wrenn and Six, and a True-Name Nemesis is either a stone wall or about to kill you. Combine this with the pesky Delver that slips through, and Ancient Tomb is starting to look really bad. By the way, when I’m talking about “Chalice” decks here, I mean Ancient Tomb decks. Merfolk is a “Chalice” deck with a very positive Delver matchup, and 4c Loam is also somewhat favored against most builds of Delver.
Back to it, then. Why is Stonecoil Serpent good? I believe Stonecoil Serpent is good because its text box has the right words to fix Steel Stompy’s Delver matchup.
Consider this scenario, which according to rough statistics, happens in around 20% of the games played against Delver decks: you’re on the draw, and your opponent opens on Delver. With Steel Stompy, previously, you were almost forced to try to jam out a Walking Ballista with X=1 to shoot down the Delver before it flips and kills you. This meant you couldn’t afford to try to jam your Chalice here, get a Turn 1 Steel Overseer going, or any of the other powerful Turn 1 plays available to you. You instead had to suboptimally utilize one of your most powerful cards, Walking Ballista, just to clear the board so you didn’t die a few turns later.
As a 2/2, Stonecoil Serpent trades with a flipped Delver at any stage of the game. That 2 mana investment that used to have to happen immediately can now happen at your leisure, and that’s if you can’t cast it as a 4/4 or larger, where Stonecoil just eats the Delver.
Stonecoil’s variable size is another important selling point of the card. Tarmogoyf is traditionally so good against Stompy decks because, as a 5/6, it’s bigger than anything on the other side of the table. However, 6/6 Stonecoil Serpents are quite achievable on their own, and they can completely get out of hand when paired with a Steel Overseer. X mana cards are pretty insane when you have 8 sol lands and 6 additional pieces of fast mana in the deck.
Moving on to the next part of the card, Trample is one of the most underrated mechanics in Magic. If you took Trample out of the text box of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, would it be nearly the card that it is? Almost certainly not. I’d bet it would still be legal in Modern, and Hogaak Summer would have been Urza Summer.
Trample is the difference between a True-Name Nemesis completely negating your onslaught or preventing a single point of damage. Trample means that you can move in with an Arcbound Ravager to push through lethal in situations where that previously wasn’t the case. Trample means you can build your own Hogaak, and it isn’t even Legendary.
Protection from multicolor is probably the least relevant part of this card, but it’s still pretty relevant. In Vintage, it means protection from Dack Fayden, which also extends to Legacy if you’re playing against Chase Hansen or Edgar Magalhães. More generally, it means protection from Baleful Strix, Abrupt Decay, Assassin's Trophy, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, Wrenn and Six, Tyrant's Scorn, Teferi, Time Raveler, Destructive Revelry, and a plethora of other cards that would otherwise interact favorably with Stonecoil Serpent if it weren’t for the protection clause.
As far are removal is concerned, however, Steel Stompy is full of live targets. Your opponent going to find something good to point their Abrupt Decay at, even if it can’t hit your Snake. The protection clause is most important when you’re designating a blocker in a race situation. Say you know that you can push through lethal on your next turn against against Depths, but need to survive the Marit Lage hit on the crack back. Stonecoil Serpent is your ideal choice. It’s colorless, so they can’t Segiri Steppe through it, and the protection from multicolor means that they can’t clear the way with an Abrupt Decay or Assassin's Trophy. While they could still have a spare Vampire Hexmage to win from here, the point is that protection from multicolor is relevant text, and can win you games that would otherwise be lost.
Stonecoil Serpent is particularly weak to the cards Fatal Push and Swords to Plowshares. These are both clean answers to a card that has no effect when it enters or leaves the battlefield. In a format as powerful as Legacy, where creatures have a Thoughtseize stapled to them, are very difficult to remove, or are a two-mana Jace the Mind Sculptor, this downside is real and relevant.
A Shift in Matchup Profiles
Steel Stompy has traditionally performed very well against spell-based combo. Its biggest weaknesses in the current metagame are against Wasteland Locks, Back to Basics, and decks that can make Ancient Tomb a liability. You’ll notice that Delver decks currently check two of these three boxes, but Stonecoil Serpent does a lot to mitigate the pressure of Delver on the life total. However, when you add a card to a deck, you have to take something out. In order to actually improve the Delver matchup, I did something drastic. I cut the playset of Thorn of Amethyst from the maindeck, and relegated them to the sideboard.
Let me be clear: I am not sure moving Thorn of Amethyst to the sideboard is the right call, but think my train of thought for doing so is generally applicable.
Back in the days when Delver decks contained Young Pyromancer and Gitaxian Probe, Thorn of Amethyst was a good card against Delver, as the Delver deck needed to churn through its “air” to find the spells with relevant text. When a card is good against both spell-based combo and Delver, it encompasses enough of the metagame to be a proper maindeck inclusion. It took me a while to realize, but a primary reason Steel Stompy had been performing so poorly against the new iterations of Delver is that Thorn of Amethyst is not a good card against them anymore.
The effect is strong. Leyline of the Amethyst would be great if I could start the game with it in play. That’s not how this works, unfortunately. While your Delver opponent is presenting Tarmogoyfs, if you’re spending your entire turn playing Thorn of Amethyst instead of playing to the board, you’re going to lose. Delver decks don’t need to chain spells to make their cards relevant anymore, like they did in the Young Pyromancer days. They present big beaters and kill you in short order. As the stompy player, you have to adapt, and that means playing to the board, and drawing cards that interact with the board. Drawing a Thorn of Amethyst on Turn 4+ in this matchup may as well not be a draw step.
When I realized that Delver decks moved from the bucket of decks that Thorn of Amethyst is good against to the bucket where it’s bad, I decided to cut it from the maindeck and relegate it to the sideboard. This shifts some other matchup profiles, too.
Although I played all 15 rounds of GP Niagara Falls, I joked that I actually had two byes in the event, due to facing ANT twice. Between Chalice of the Void, Thorn of Amethyst, Thought-Knot Seer, Phyrexian Revoker, Wasteland, and a fast clock, those poor beanie-and-flannel shirt-wearing geniuses never had a chance. A matchup doesn’t need to be that positive, and I decided that I’m okay losing some percentage points. If changing ANT from a practical bye to merely favorable helps me beat Delver, that’s a cost I’m willing to pay.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve struggled with Steel Stompy against the basic-heavy Tundra decks. Stoneforge Mystic, Monastery Mentor, True-Name Nemesis, and Back to Basics are all a pain to deal with, especially when unable to effectively pressure their manabases. Tundra decks? More like Basic Island and Plains deck, am I right? Practically, the matchup plays out in a very challenging fashion. You are forced to present enough pressure to win quickly, before a Back to Basics locks you out or an unbeatable haymaker comes down on the opponent’s side, but overextending just walks into a board wipe. Thorn of Amethyst is actually quite good here, as taking a turn off to cast it equally delays the Back to Basics or Supreme Verdict by a turn, but also slows down the cantripping and other interaction. Losing maindeck Thorn of Amethyst in favor of a creature that is cleanly answered by Swords to Plowshares turns a difficult matchup into an abysmal one.
When building a deck, it’s important to consider your matchup profiles against the expected field, and the tradeoffs you make when deckbuilding. Here’s where I’m currently at, and a recorded league with the list. Enjoy!
Written by Max