In the words of many a Magic player: "Got crushed."
Legacy is an incredibly diverse format; it's so varied in fact that the ability to play "any" sort of deck has started to become the format's primary selling point. Top 8 lists from premier-level tournaments evolve wildly from week to week though "power cards" such as Stoneforge Mystic remain somewhat more comfortably positioned. The sheer variety offered in card choice for each deck is staggering and ensures that a given strategy never will remain comfortably on top unless it's so overpowered as to be considered "broken" at which point it likely will be removed (see: Survival of the Fittest).
This same positive aspect though can make it a difficult format to simply pick up and play cost issues aside. Generally the more options there are in a given format the harder it is to make a correct decision about what to play in that format. For instance in Mirrodin Block Constructed probably 60% of decks in a given tournament were Ravager Affinity. While that was awful for the health of the format it made it very easy to identify archetypes likely to succeed for those who didn't play the format.
For this reason I have found Legacy to be a difficult format. As a frequent Limited player who dabbles in Legacy my experience prior to Grand Prix Indianapolis was incredibly scant: a single Grand Prix Trial in 2005 (Helm of Awakening/Sensei's Divining Top Combo) and the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Indianapolis last year (NO RUG). Aside from those two tournaments I had no experience whatsoever (and a GPT in 2005 hardly counts as preparation although two of my five opponents in that tournament played High Tide and Burn respectively against both of which I played last weekend).
In preparation for the tournament I began scanning decklists from the past six months to see if anything caught my eye. Having netdecked NO RUG from Reid Duke in my previous Legacy tournament I took notice of his Mono-Black Pox deck from the Charlotte Invitational last December. It seemed to be a good list for a format novice because its pervasive hand disruption would allow me to have more information about my opponents than I would have playing say G/W Maverick. But then Ali Aintrazi who also throws together some incredibly fun lists did well with a B/G version of the deck with Life from the Loam. As someone who played through the Destructive Flow era of Extended I have a very healthy respect for the card and the ways in which it can turn synergistic effects like Smallpox into sources of tremendous card advantage and utility.
I finally settled on a list that Ali wrote about in the middle of February as my starting point in preparing for the tournament. Because my non-Magic Online Magic experience this competitive season amounted to one PTQ and one FNM I had no byes for the tournament and had to attempt to grind for byes. The deck that I ended up registering for the Grand Prix Grinders on Friday was similar to Ali's suggested deck with the following changes:
And in the sideboard:
I added Darkblast to the main deck because so many of the best decks right now run creatures that die to it including Vendilion Clique Snapcaster Mage Delver of Secrets Dark Confidant Noble Hierarch Thalia Guardian of Thraben etc…. Having a single copy for which to Entomb provides us with five additional answers to these creatures compared to needing to draw Innocent Blood Smallpox or Liliana of the Veil. In addition with the recent increase in the number of hexproof creatures in the format (especially Nimble Mongoose which is making a comeback in RUG Delver and Geist of Saint Traft) Darkblast allows us more frequently to force a sacrifice of an untargetable creature.
Leyline of Sanctity was a concession to Ali's sideboard tech for Mono Red which was "pray." I wasn't sure how good it would be especially since I can't hard cast it (though I initially had a copy of Fetid Heath in the sideboard for precisely that reason). In retrospect this line of thinking probably wasn't wise. I ended up registering this list:
GP Indianapolis Grinder
In the first grinder I ended up playing against U/G High Tide in the first round and the deck performed as intended. Some early discard hampered his ability to function and an Entomb for Raven's Crime sealed the deal once I had drawn Life from the Loam. In retrospect given my performance I feel bad for winning this match (he went on to win another grinder and his list is here). I basically just ended up costing him $20.
In the second round I was paired against RUG Delver which is theoretically a good matchup for me. I threatened a turn 1 Entomb on his second end step after he had tapped out for Delver of Secrets and he countered it with Force of Will. We traded back and forth (i.e. Mishra's Factory for Nimble Mongoose) for a while but after a grueling 38 minute game I lost finding all four Life from the Loam and the remaining three copies of Entomb in the bottom fifteen cards of my library. I won the second game through Sensei's Divining Top / Counterbalance via Pernicious Deed in turns and we were on to "sudden death." Those of you who have not played in a grinder before (as I had not) may not be familiar with this format. Basically there is a new state-based effect for the remainder of the match that reads "Whenever a player has a lower life total than an opponent that player loses." As one might imagine Pox absolutely sucks at sudden death. Although I boarded in my copies of Leyline of Sanctity after mulliganing to five without finding one I simply sighed and accepted my opponent's turn 1 Lightning Bolt to the face.
Despite my poor performance in the grinder I had only lost a single game so I didn't think that my deck needed to be changed prior to the Grand Prix itself. I turned out to be wrong…
Grand Prix Indianapolis
Round 1 versus U/W Delver
I was able to control the first game with a combination of discard and land destruction but I was unable to locate either an Entomb or a Life from the Loam in time to prevent him from overrunning me once he had located the mana to resolve Elspeth Knight-Errant. In the second game a constantly recurring Cabal Pit kept my opponent running on empty until my Mishra's Factories could seal the deal. We began the final game with mere minutes left on the clock and I was unable to stop his Jace from going ultimate in the final turn (though I may have considered conceding anyway to avoid playing in the draw bracket).
0-1 1-2 in games
Round 2 versus Esper Delver
After crushing him easily in the first game due to a multiple Wasteland / Smallpox draw he crushed me just as easily in the second and third games using Surgical Extraction. As it turns out having only two win conditions is extremely dangerous against decks that run both Snapcaster Mage and Surgical Extraction in multiples.
0-2 2-4 in games
Round 3 versus Affinity
In game 1 I lost to a turn 2 Tezzeret Agent of Bolas which hit for fourteen damage on turn 3. In subsequent games I was able to use Pernicious Deed in conjunction with The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale to quickly stall his momentum and Affinity without burn is not the kind of deck that can recover against a control deck easily.
1-2 4-5 in games
Round 4 versus Mono-Red Burn
He mulliganed to six in the first game and my Hymn to Tourachs hit perfectly allowing me to squeak out a win at two life. In the second game I mulliganed to six and saw a decent hand without Leyline of Sanctity but I kept. This time though I controlled the game at three life (he had no cards in hand and no land) I was unable to prevent him from sneaking in one final Chain Lightning. I ended up losing the match… Did you know that Chaos Warp is a card?
1-3 5-7 in games
I dropped as I was no longer in contention for day 2.
It seems strange to say that a 1-3 deck has potential even considering that my play likely was not optimal throughout the day but each of my matches was extremely close. In one case simply having one or two different (additional) win conditions would've won me a match and in another my inappropriate reliance on Leyline of Sanctity in a format equipped to deal with it cost me. Further I never played against G/W Maverick in the Grand Prix which is a good matchup against this deck.
If I were to play this deck again (and it may not be an optimal choice especially with Lingering Souls having won the GP against which cards like Innocent Blood are not fantastic) I would seriously consider diversifying the types of threats and answers. For example Bloodghast is very good at eating Swords to Plowshares or at being Surgically Extracted. For this reason Cursed Scroll might indeed be the optimal weapon in this format although it's worse against Jace (per Ali's argument). The original threat package for this type of deck seems better than Bloodghast though less streamlined and aggressive. A modified list might appear as such:
Loam Pox is a very enjoyable deck to play and to the extent that it can be "fit" to the metagame in Legacy makes it a potential contender. I look forward to seeing what Ali and others who pick up this style of deck do with it in the upcoming StarCityGames.com Invitational in Baltimore and all the StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens!