Canadian Threshold is the greatest deck of all time.
I have talked so much about this deck. But I most certainly have not covered everything and with the recent changes to both the deck and the Legacy metagame, I think it’s time to talk about it some more.
I will give you a short overview on the role of each card and point out groups of cards, explain splits between similar effects and point out alternatives for some roles. What I write about will reflect what I consider worth talking about, but we all have different perspectives, so please let me know if you have any further questions I should address; I plan on gradually updating this primer.
Contrary to most primers, I am not going to is draw a line between the maindeck and the sideboard. If there is one copy of a card in the maindeck and another in the sideboard, there simply are two copies in the deck. I am also not going to give you a sideboard guide – but hear (read?) me out! I don’t think sideboard guides without context are of much use (and you can find boarding plans for many matchups in my #GPPrague report anyway). However, I plan on writing semi-thorough matchup analyses in the near future and including them in this article would simply make it way too long. But I will talk about when each card is good and when it isn’t, so I hope this will give you a good idea about how to approach most matchups.
3 Winter Orb / 4 Stifle / 4 Wasteland
I thought about it for a bit and decided to just start with the very heavy mana denial package, because that’s what really sets my list apart from other Canadian Threshold decks.
Canadian Threshold is a deck that runs only the most efficient cards in the Legacy format. Most efficient doesn’t mean most powerful though. As a matter of fact, the average powerlevel of spells in this deck is likely below the average powerlevel of most Legacy decks. Canadian Threshold has a great early game, but will quickly fall behind in the late game.
Your tax-counters are not great when your opponent has five mana available, nor do your one-mana creatures line up well against your opponent’s more expensive creatures. Lightning Bolt becomes a lacklustre removal spell when your opponent has Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary, Reality Smasher or Monastery Mentor. You get the idea.
The Stifle/Wasteland package has always been the true backbone of this deck. Most of your opponents will not be as well set-up as you to pick fights in the early game, so if you manage to artificially prolong the early game, you are likely in a strong position – you have way more live spells than them and will have an easier time interacting with them than they will have interacting with you.
Historically, decks that have been bad matchups for Canadian have been either those that were immune to your mana denial (think Death & Taxes; pre-Deathrite Elves) or those that could quickly offset the effects of your Stifles and Wastelands (Nic Fit, Life from the Loam strategies, Deathrite Shaman decks).
Probably most importantly, Miracles can also sometimes fall in the former category. They run less basics now than they used to, but in exchange they run more library manipulation, which more or less evens out.
Although not many decks in Legacy focus as heavily on efficient early-game options, the format is very much about making the best use of one’s mana. Miracles uses Sensei’s Divining Top, Entreat the Angels and Monastery Mentor as mana sinks, Sneak & Show and Eldrazi decks exploit two-mana lands, Shardless Sultai plays a bunch of expensive, unimpressive spells that generate cardadvantage, Life from the Loam strategies make use of all that extra mana with Loam, cycle Lands and Punishing Fire.
In the past, Canadian lists tried to keep up with these decks in the late game with the help of Sylvan Library – your cards were not effective enough on their own right, but if you had many of them, they would matter again (an opponent could have paid for one tax-counter, but not two). But ever since the printing of Abrupt Decay, I haven’t been super happy with Sylvan Library. You could often find nice opportunities to land it, but your opponents would usually just go to their turn and destroy it or start playing so aggressively that you couldn’t afford to draw extra cards.
Winter Orb is nothing like Sylvan Library, but it does the same job: winning the lategame. Rather than giving you a better lategame, it completely shuts off your opponents’ lategame – good on them for having six lands, but what are they gonna do if they never get to use more than two of them? Suddenly, your tax-counters are still live in the lategame and your opponents won’t get to cast (/resolve) the cards that were going to outclass yours.
As great as Winter Orb is, it doesn’t stack well (the effect actually doesn’t stack at all…) and it’s not very useful against every deck to begin with. In some matchups, it’s also better on the play than on the draw because you get to play more aggressively. The only matchups where you actively want all three copies (as opposed to just using them if you have them) are Miracles and Lands. But with Miracles being as popular and successful as it is, I do not want to play without the third copy.
I do not want any copies of Winter Orb in Delver mirrors, against Elves or against decks that don’t have any lands (duh). Against most decks that I have not listed, I want two copies even on the draw and sometimes three on the play.
Moving on from Winter Orb (finally!), we have Wasteland and Stifle. Here, the same thing applies that applies to Winter Orb – I only don’t want them if they do literally nothing. Stifle is not great against decks without fetchlands but fairly good against most decks that have them. I’m not sure how much I like Stifle in the Delver mirror (notice a trend?), but you should never underestimate the ability to randomly deny your opponents all their land drops.
Wasteland is in the same boat that I only board out copies if my opponent doesn’t have any targets, but even then I sometimes keep a few copies because it does cast some spells. One thing to keep in mind is that many players do not treat Wasteland as an actual land; it doesn’t really cast many spells.
Outside the obvious synergy between Stifle and Wasteland, I should also mention how well Wasteland and Winter Orb play together. Not only does Wasteland hit untapped dual lands, but if you have Winter Orb with and untapped Wasteland, the threat of their duals lands being destroyed will often keep your opponents form untapping lands other than basics, limiting their options – your Wasteland does its job just by being present, allowing you to keep for more important targets (usually duals lands of colours your opponents don’t have basics of).
In the past, several players have tried removing Stifle from this deck. The reasoning was that you would be able to press the land-advantage harder, but it’s quite the opposite. If you remove Stifle from the equation, all your other cards get worse: Stifle doesn’t seem like it does much when it only denies your opponent one land and they still get to play Magic, but all the cards in Canadian Threshold work together; if you remove one of the parts, the entire engine gets worse. Further, you are giving up on a large percentage of the free wins that your mana denial package provides.
4 Nimble Mongoose / 4 Delver of Secrets / 2 Tarmogoyf / 2 True-Name Nemesis
Delver of Secrets is one of the main reasons this deck is good. It’s vital in combo matchups and enables a number of ridiculously aggressive draws. Delver is great against most decks, but can be a liability when your opponent has access to huge numbers of removal. If they have Punishing Fire or a heavy removal shell with Snapcaster Mage, there’s a good chance Delver is an unlikely avenue to victory and you’re better off blanking your opponent’s removal spells with untouchable creatures (which can include Tarmogoyf).
Nimble Mongoose is insane. It’s your best creature in a lot of matchups, notably Miracles and Loam strategies. It’s also quite strong in Delver mirrors if you can manage to keep bigger creatures off the board – while your other creatures might be susceptible to your opponent’s Lightning Bolts or Submerges, Nimble Mongoose can freely keep bashing. This limits the number of cards you care about, oftentimes leaving you ahead on cards by blanking your opponents’. The only matchup I don’t like Nimble Mongoose in is the Eldrazi matchup, but even there it’s alright – I currently board out all four copies because it gets walled easily, but I’m honestly not sure if it’s even worse than Rough // Tumble.
True-Name Nemesis is kind of a hybrid between Mongoose and Delver – you get immunity to most removal spells stapled onto a three-power evasion creature. However, the mana cost is a real drawback. In many matchups, paying three mana for a creature is not feasible, so True-Name is relegated to the sideboard. As I alluded to before, I like True-Name when my opponents have a wealth of removal spells (Miracles, Lands, Aggro Loam), but it’s also great against decks that gum up the board (like Death & Taxes and many Deathrite Shaman decks).
Tarmogoyf has exactly one quality: It’s the least bad of all the other creatures. The only popular matchup where you want Tarmogoyf for its effect (being huge) is Eldrazi. It’s not a very exciting card, but it’s still consistently big and can bash for nice damage. I do not want Tarmogoyf against combo decks (because two mana is too much to spend mainphase if that doesn’t disrupt their game plan), nor do I want it when it’s the worst creature (more on that in the next paragraph).
As for the numbers on these creatures, we have eight creatures at one mana, no debate over that. But as I said, eight creatures are not always enough. If your opponents can kill your creatures, you usually want ten creatures (Miracles can not actually kill Nimble Mongoose and True-Name, so there’s an exception). If the game really plays out on the board (i.e. in Delver mirrors), I tend to go to 11 or 12, but that’s really the exception.
What’s more important than having many creatures is having the right creatures. For example, I usually swap my Tarmogoyfs for my True-Names if I want them, staying at 10 creatures. Your ideal draw usually involves one creature and all interaction to ride that one creature to victory; the second creature often doesn’t do anything, although double-Delver draws are not to be underestimated.
4 Daze / 4 Fore of Will / 3 Spell Snare / 2 Spell Pierce / 1 Counterspell / 3 Pyroblast
With regards to my countermagic configuration, there are things worth talking about and things not worth discussing.
Let’s start with Daze, Force of Will and Pyroblast: These are not worth discussing, they’re staples of the archetype. Free spells are good, Pyroblast does roughly infinite things well. The only matchup I can think of where I ever board out any free counters is Shardless. Outside of that, I always want all my free counters, while I want all my Pyroblasts against all my blue opponents, except the Deathrite/Abrupt Decay blue decks.
Beyond that, players often comment on how much countermagic I run overall. I already have thirteen pieces of countermagic in the maindeck and then another four in the sideboard. In my opinion, the ideal way a game goes is this: You drop a creature, then counter everything your opponent does. Simple as that. It doesn’t work if you run out of counterspells though, so you want to run a decent number.
Counterspell is what stands out the most when comparing my list to other Canadian lists. I’ve been playing Counterspell since 2012. At the time, I was toying around with many different versions of the deck; different creature setups, Stifle vs. no Stifle, Snare vs. Pierce and pretty much every secondary removal spell you can think of. I also tried out the “bigger” lists, dubbed Next Level Thresh. Overall, I wasn’t satisfied with the deck, but I did like the Counterspells.
Counterspell is very much a “what you see is what you get” type of card, so I don’t understand how it sees so little play in this deck. Most of the time, Counterspell will trade up – your opponent will spend more than two mana on their spell, plus they will have a harder time getting that mana than you have to get to two mana. Interestingly, this is one of the main complaints with Counterspell: It’s supposedly clunky. This is, quite simply, not true. It is only marginally harder to cast than Tarmogoyf (which my list plays fewer of than most) and easier to cast than Vendilion Clique (which is widely played) while being far more impactful.
Yes, there are matchups where it’s not great (basically the Delver mirror only), but it’s almost always a great topdeck. As I mentioned earlier, the ideal plan is to have exactly one creature and then counter everything your opponent does. That’s much easier when you draw fewer creatures and can counter more spells.
If it’s so good, why not more copies? I think there are diminishing returns on the card and it can be hard to cast multiple copies. A few expensive spells are alright, but you don’t want too many of them. Usually, in Legacy, expensive means four-drop, but in this deck, it means two-drop. Further, the amount of countermagic you can run is limited and there are other cards you need to run.
Three Spell Snare is more than most people play. I tried playing without Snares and it completely changes how the deck works. Suddenly, your only answer to Tarmogoyf becomes Tarmogoyf – you are forced to run more Tarmogoyfs, which are a liability in many matchups. If your opponent plays a lategame Chalice of the Void, Spell Pierce might not do; not playing Snare here limits your options. Your opponent has Stoneforge Mystic or Dark Confidant? Nice Spell Pierce!
A hard counter for Counterbalance is also very important, plus the ability to deal with Baleful Strix efficiently makes a world of difference against Shardless – Spell Snare is a card I want against them, Spell Pierce is not.
Why still run Spell Pierce then? Without a doubt, there are decks against which it actually is a better card than Spell Snare – Sneak & Show is a good example, but also against Storm, Pierce can often be better. Pierce also gives you an answer to Jace, the Mind Sculptor and extra (situational) answers to many of the things Snare hits. I think they complement each other nicely and it’s cool that you exchange them, depending on matchups.
4 Lightning Bolt / 2 Dismember
Lightning Bolt is just very powerful. In a deck that deals damage in increments of three, Lightning Bolt is often a literal Time Walk that ends the game on the spot. On top of that, it’s an extremely good removal spell, never trading down and often trading up.
Dismember deals with big creatures like Tarmogoyf, Gurmag Angler and Eldrazi. However, four life is a steep cost and casting both copies can be impossible or lead to losses. This was less of an issue when my deck still had an Underground Sea, but it doesn’t come up super often anyway. Depending on how many small creature decks (Delver, Death & Taxes, Elves, Burn) you expect to face, the second Dismember can easily be a Forked Bolt; I tend to use Forked Bolt on Magic Online and 2 Dismember in paper Magic.
4 Brainstorm / 4 Ponder
Please. This is Legacy.
4 Flooded Strand / 4 Polluted Delta / 3 Tropical Island / 3 Volcanic Island
I think the baseline for the manabase is 7 Fetch + 3 of each dual. The fourteenth land can be either another fetch or another Volcanic; I tend to go with Volcanic when I expect a lot of mana denial (this hasn’t been the case since Canadian Threshold was actually widely played) and I play the eighth fetch if I expect a medium amount – usually the fetch is better because very few people play Stifle, but having another hard land helps out a bit with drawing more lands.
As for the fetchlands, you can go with any combination of blue fetches and Wooded Foothills. For whatever reason, players like to hedge against Pithing Needle by playing a split – I think if your opponents try to Needle your fetchlands, you’re in a good spot anyway.
I advise you to play a combination of two fetchlands that lets you represent a deck other than Canadian, making opponents less likely to play around Stifle. Many people think that Wooded Foothills is best for this, but the way I see it, Foothills is a very clear indicator for Canadian Threshold – which other deck plays Wooded Foothills on turn one and then passes the turn?
As for the blue fetches, I like Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta in a vacuum, when people don’t know you – this is the setup I played at the GP. Flooded Strand means Miracles to most players, Polluted Delta can mean Storm, Reanimator or one of the Deathrite/Delver decks, which don’t play Stifle.
However, when playing in local events, I tend to run the same fetchlands as the last non-Canadian deck I played. When I played Storm a lot, I always played Delta + Misty in Canadian. The same was true on Magic Online, where I played Team America for a while. After having played Miracles for a bit, I switched to Strand + Scalding Tarn. It’s worth noting that Delta has extra benefits if you play with Underground Sea, making the “I’m playing a black deck” bluff more believable.
Submerge is not as good as it used to be because there are way fewer copies of Dryad Arbor around, but it’s still a worthy inclusion, largely thanks to its ability to deal with Tarmogoyf and Deathrite Shaman. The fact that it’s free to cast means it plays very well with cantrips and countermagic – you can let a creature resolve, then Submerge it while you cantrip into hard removal. Another fairly common line is to tap out during your own turn, let their creature resolve, Submerge it and counter the second attempt, netting you a massive tempo advantage in the process.
There’s also the rare situation where your opponent activates a fetchland and you can Submerge their creature in response to get rid off it for good, but most of the time, I actually want them to re-draw the creature.
Submerge is usually a free Time Walk in races. I like it in literally every green creature matchup, although it can be mediocre against Elves because of how quickly they can escalate.
2 Rough // Tumble
Rounding out the removal suite, we have Rough // Tumble. I think it’s currently the weakest card in the deck, but it’s still great against decks that flood the board with small creatures. Tribal decks are not super common these days, but this card is also fairly good against Young Pyromancer decks, most notably Grixis Delver, plus it’s not too shabby against Death & Taxes. Many players seem to like it against Eldrazi, and at the time of this writing, I also board it against them, but I have yet to encounter any situations where it’s really good – I tend to lose to their big creatures much more frequently than their small ones.
2 Ancient Grudge
Grudge has always been a reasonable card to play because of Stoneforge Mystic, but currently, Chalice of the Void is at an all-time high, notably out of decks with additional artifacts (Jitte and extra Spheres in Eldrazi, Mox Diamond in Aggro Loam). I have also made the observation that Æther Vial decks have a very hard time with Winter Orb on the battlefield if they don’t have Vial. To top it off, Shardless beats us because they have so many cards, not because their cards are so good. Nimble Mongoose becomes a better attacker if Shardless Agent isn’t there to block; Spell Snares can be kept for Tarmogoyf if you have Grudge for Baleful Strix.
1 Surgical Extraction
This is the one true flex-slot in my list. It does fill a very specific role, but there are multiple cards that do very similar things. With the inclusion of Winter Orb, there’s no more room for Flusterstorms in the sideboard. This does hurt in combo matchups, especially against Storm and Reanimator. Surgical is the broadest of the cards I could think of, with extra benefits against Lands and Miracles, but Grafdigger’s Cage or Compost are also perfectly reasonable depending on what you expect to face.
That’s it for now. I am going to attach a list of alternative options at some point in the near future, but again, if you have any questions I have not covered, let me know and I will edit this primer.
Thanks for reading!