Deep Dive into Dark Depths

So if you’ve played much of any Legacy, you’ve probably figured out that Dark Depths can be used in combination with Thespian’s Stage or Vampire Hexmage to quickly and easily create the 20/20 Marit Lage token. And, in case it wasn’t obvious, Marit Lage can quickly and easily end the game in your favor.

So here I’m not gonna talk about the combo, but instead about when to do it and what your opponent can do to disrupt it. Just to be up front, I’ve made my Marit Lages almost entirely from a Lands perspective, and haven’t played dedicated Depths decks much at all. So a lot of this will be from that angle. Still, it should be pretty applicable, and I’ll try to mention Depths cards that I’m aware of as we go.

When to go for it – Gameplan

Well, Marit Lage kills people fast, so why wouldn’t you just go for it? Two main reasons. First, making a 20/20 takes a good deal of resources. It’ll cost you two lands and usually about a turn’s worth of mana if you go the stage route. Hexmage is easier, but it still represents a cost. Also, the combo is often your way to win, so you don’t want to blow that for nothing. Second, there can be value in holding the combo up as a threat. If you’re able to play a long game, just keeping up the threat of a 20/20 forces opponents to respect it by not tapping out so that they can represent answers. In this way, Depths combo can work as a kind of pseudo-port while you develop an alternative game plan (eg. Field of the Dead or beating with your creatures).

Making Marit Lage then is something you do when either (a) your back is against the wall and you just have to pray to the Eldritch terror as a kind of twisted Hail Mary; or (b) when you put your opponent on very few outs and feel you have a good chance to just kill them. With Lands, (a) happens against a lot of combo decks that have a much faster clock than you otherwise, and can just draw out of your mana-denial tools. It also happens in games that are just going quite badly on board. (b) happens against certain decks that simply don’t play many outs, especially maindeck. Delver is an example of this (usually just 2 or so Brazen Borrower main), as are 12 Post decks where the only common answer is Karakas. You can also engineer a situation where (b) is true just by playing the game in a certain way – porting them off white sources, for example, to cut out Swords to Plowshares as an out.

Last, it can also be right to go for it if you have a way to mitigate the cost of comboing. Life from the Loam is the key card here, especially in combination with Exploration, since at that point you can just make 20/20s every turn.

When to go for it – Phases

What phase you choose to summon the icy horror in is a matter of what you want to play around. Most often you want to make Marit Lage at your opponent’s end step. This plays around all sorcery speed answers and gives you the most information about what your opponent is doing. 

The main reason to make Marit Lage before the end step is to play around Wasteland, since you can’t respond to them putting Wasteland into play. If you decide that your opponent is more likely to have Wasteland than any other answer (often the case against Delver), then you’ll have to decide between making Marit Lage on your turn or on their upkeep. If your opponent is tapped out, acting on your turn stops them from untapping and potentially casting a spell to disrupt you. If they aren’t tapped out, waiting until their upkeep can force them to use any mana on their turn instead of yours.

Things can get a little murkier if you’re using Crop Rotation to find the combo, since at that point you have to play around countermagic as well as Wasteland and other answers. Usually you’ll still want to wait until the end of their turn so that they’ll (hopefully) tap out. However, if you want to play around Wasteland and countermagic, you may want to rotate in their upkeep, since this will play around Force of Negation. Of course, if you fear Spell Pierce more than Force of Negation, it may be better to rotate for the token on your turn if/when they’re tapped out. There’s also some consideration to playing the crop rotation in response to draw spells if you want to avoid them drawing into the countermagic that would stop you, but that will let them know you’re going off, so they’ll look for other answers with their cantrip. You can see how Crop Rotation kinda complicates things.

It can be tempting to create a 20/20 blocker in the middle of combat to eat a creature. Surely waiting until the end of the turn is lost value at that point? It seems to me that it’s rarely correct to do this, as it enables your opponent to use sorcery speed answers, especially planeswalkers, to eliminate your monster. I’d make this play if I needed to block to avoid dying, or perhaps to avoid falling to 3 life against an opponent with Lightning Bolt. But usually it’s safer to just take your licks since Marit Lage will repay your opponent 20fold. You don’t want to get blown out by the second main phase Karakas or Oko.

Common Answers

The remainder of this article will be a list of what answers opponents can play. For each answer, I’ll name a few decks that commonly play them and give some notes on how to play around them. Some answers are in play and visible, those I’ll name. Others are represented by available mana, those I’ll name by the mana your opponent must hold up to represent them. This is important because it is their mana that is the information you actually have access to, and being attentive to the mana opponents hold up allows you to better identify bluffs on their part by seeing how consistently they actually hold up that mana.

Wasteland / Ghost Quarter 
Wasteland stops the combo by destroying Dark Depths (or the Dark Depths copy) when it has 0 counters on it and is triggering to create Marit Lage. You can play around it if your opponent doesn’t have one yet by creating Marit Lage in their upkeep, before they have a land in play. If they have one in play already, you will need to force them to use it before you combo off. You can do this with Wastelands of your own, for example. You can also tap their Wasteland with your Rishadan Port. If you have extra Thespian’s Stage’s and a chunk of mana, you can copy their Wasteland to get things going. Pithing Needle on Wasteland is another trick often used by more dedicated Depths decks.

Played by: Delver, Depths, Death & Taxes, Maverick, 4c Loam, Lands… lots of people

Sometimes your opponent, rude as they are, will have flying blockers. These are almost never any real threat to Marit Lage, but they can buy your opponent turns to find answers or deploy sorcery speed ones. Sejiri Steppe’s protection can help punch through, or you can use removal to kill their creatures. The most obnoxious thing here is if your opponent has Mother of Runes to go with their blocker. At that point, you’ll need to eliminate the mom somehow, and then get through their blocker. If you are worried about dying on the crack-back, don’t forget that you can use Maze of Ith to give Marit Lage pseudo-vigilance by untapping her in the combat damage step after damage has been applied.

Played by: Miracles (coatl), Death & Taxes (Flickerwisp), 4c Control (strix or coatl), Maverick (Scryb Ranger), and many others.

Planeswalkers & other sorcery speed answers
With Oko & Teferi joining Jace in the gang of walkers-who-kill-Lage, there are now a lot of walkers that make Marit Lage sad. The best way to play around these is by comboing on your opponent’s end step. Your opponent will likely try to set up a situation where they can block and then use their walker. You’ll be able to see this coming if they have a blocker in play; watch out for a walker follow-up if the walker isn’t in play already. More surprising is when the blocker is Ice-Fang Coatl. You can see if their plan is something like coatl+oko by seeing if they leave UG up to flash in the snake.

Played in: Control decks, RUG Delver, BUG Lands, some combo (Teferi)

Lifegain functions a lot like a blocker in that it stops Marit Lage from killing the opponent in one turn, thereby giving them a chance to deploy sorcery-speed answers to her. Probably the most common lifegain sources are Oko’s food tokens and Uro’s ETB trigger. Both of these gain your opponent only 3 life, so if they’ve cracked a few fetch lands, you can still put them to 1 or 2. It may be worthwhile to put them down to 1 and try to constrict their mana by stopping future fetches (though this is not really workable against an opposing Oko as he’ll just gain them the life they need). If you have some burn or other creatures, they can finish the job. If not, you’ll want to weigh the risk of opposing walkers into your decision to go for it.

Played in: UGxx control, 12 Post 

One blue mana represents, most commonly, Vapor Snag. As with a decent number of these, there’s no direct way to play around this except by holding back. You can use port to tap their mana at the end of the second main phase, if they leave themselves open to such a trick. Dedicated Depths decks can beat this, and the other targeted spells I’ll mention, with things like Crop Rotation for Sejiri Steppe or Not of this World. In this case, even Veil of Summer would do the trick.
Notably, one blue mana can also represent Stifle, also out of Delver. Stifle doesn’t stop the combo, but it does slow it down by one turn. If you want to play around this, try to catch your opponent untapped. This is where making the token on your turn can be useful.

Played by: Delver

This usually represents Brazen Borrower, one of the most commonly played answers out there at the moment. The above notes about holding back, using port, or having defensive spells apply here. Also worth noting is that for the decks that play it (usually Delver), 1U is not an insignificant amount to hold up. If they do not have a threat in play, or if you’re fairly stable, you can force them to keep it up and effectively almost Time Walk them.

Played by: Delver, some 4c Control

This is Swords to Plowshares mana. Port them off white, blow up their astrolabes. Sometimes it is correct to just gain 20 life, especially against more aggressive decks like Death & Taxes. Against more controlling decks, using the threat of Lage as a port is often best, since your long-term gameplan with Lands is more about a protected Loam engine and Field of the Dead. With Depths, you’ll want one of the protection spells like Not of this World.

Played in: Death & Taxes, Miracles, Maverick

GB represents Assassin’s Trophy, which in this case is essentially an instant-speed Ghost Quarter. It doesn’t hit Lage, but rather the Depths as it triggers, so things like Sejiri Steppe won’t work. Decks that play it are often multicolored and it is most common in Stryfo Pile. In those cases, since you’re against a slower control deck, just holding up the combo is fine. Moreover, their manabase is relatively fragile, so you can use wasteland, port, or ghost quarter to take them off the relevant colors.

Played in: Stryfo Pile, BUGx control

This is edict mana! It could be Diabolic Edict but is more likely Liliana’s Triumph. These cards will make you sacrifice a creature, and if your only creature is Marit Lage, well then the decision is forced. To play around this you can do the classic fetch-for-Dryad Arbor trick. But if you don’t have arbor in your deck, this will be a little tricky. Manlands or just having extra creatures would do the job in a pinch.

Played in: Pox/MBC, some UBxx Control decks

2R is relatively rare to see but it represents the Gone side of Dead // Gone, a card that sometimes sees play in Moon Stompy or Delver sideboards. It is essentially a red bounce spell, so everything about Brazen Borrower or Vapor Snag applies here. It’s probably not worth playing around unless you’ve seen it before in that same match, since the card is pretty rare.

Played in: Moon Stompy, some Delver

With G, your opponent is representing Crop Rotation. Crop Rotation can find Wasteland to disrupt your combo or, more often, Karakas to eliminate Marit Lage once you’re through. If you anticipate Karakas, then a defensive spell would work here (though not Sejiri Steppe, since Karakas is colorless). Otherwise, you can try to tempt your opponent to use the crop rotation in some alternative way – Wastelanding them gives them an opportunity to avoid its ‘sacrifice a land’ clause, so sometimes you can push them into using their rotation that way. 

Played in: Infect, Lands, Depths, Green Post decks, occasionally RUG Delver

Ensnaring Bridge
This is a sorcery speed answer, so you’ll be able to see it coming. The way to beat it is to have spells that remove it or to strangle their mana so that they cannot play it. It is often played in tandem with Karn, Great Creator, so it’ll cost them a virtual 7 mana. Surely you can stop them from getting to that? If not, well that’s what Abrupt Decay and Force of Vigor are for.

Played in: Karn decks, Moon Stompy

Although this card doesn’t see a ton of play, the list wouldn’t be complete without it. Submerge is free, so you won’t see it coming. If you suspect they have it, you will want to avoid playing a Forest. This may involve Wastelanding your own duals if it’s already too late. At least you don’t have to draw Marit Lage next turn.

Played in: Infect, some RUG Delver

Aether Vial
Aether Vial is not an answer to Marit Lage in and of itself, of course. But it can represent an answer. At 4, it represents Palace Jailer, who’s regal prison is big enough to cage Lage. At 3, it represents Flickerwisp, a creature that despite being a 3/1 can somehow send Marit Lage to the shadowrealm and keep her there. At 2 it can represent a blocker like Kitesail Freebooter or Serra Avenger. Beware – that blocker might buy time for a Flickerwisp next turn. 

Played in: Death & Taxes, Humans, Goblins (though not as problematic in this last)

Karakas / Maze of Ith
These are answers you will see on-board before going off, so you will be able to avoid playing to them. Maze is only a temporary answer until you find Wasteland, Port, Needle, or anything else. More problematic is Karakas. Most Karakas decks are also Wasteland decks, and most (with the exception of DnT & Humans) run only 1 Karakas next to 4 Wasteland. Against these decks it can be better to make Marit Lage in their upkeep to dodge Wasteland, even knowing that they could have Karakas, simply because that’s how the odds play out. Of course, if you can play through Wasteland (eg, you have a Wasteland of your own), there’s no reason to take the risk. Many Karakas decks are also Crop Rotation decks, however, so be aware that G open can represent a surprise Karakas.

Played in: Lands, Depths, Death & Taxes, Humans, 12 Post, Eldrazi Stompy, some Infect

Thanks for reading! I hope this has been informative, even if many long-time players have already internalized a lot of this. My aim is for this to be a kind of living document, so if there are answers or play patterns I’ve missed, please don’t hesitate to contact me and let me know. Thanks!

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