The day before Grand Prix Indianapolis started Marijn Lybaert posted the following on Facebook:
So who wants to win this GP?
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Lingering Souls
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Force of Will
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Jace the Mind Sculptor
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
3 Underground Sea
4 Flooded Strand
3 Polluted Delta
2 Marsh Flats
1 Kor Haven
It bears a passing resemblance to the deck that actually won the Grand Prix in the hands of the singular Tom Martell:
It wasn't a Lybaert original in any sense of the word but it was still going to change the story of the Grand Prix. This was the deck he met in the finals of that 105-person tournament in Belgium with G/W Maverick. He divulged to me on Friday that the Lingering Souls deck hadn't dropped a match throughout the tournament and that they split the finals instead of playing it out.
I spent the plane ride over tweaking the deck pulling together what I had of the deck and figuring out a more suitable sideboard for it. The original list had far too many threes: two Intuitions two Vindicates and a Sword of Fire and Ice alongside the set of Lingering Souls. It also had 22 land which became a problem multiple times in testing.
Things became clearer at the airport when I started chatting with Maarten Knaepen a Belgian player who was looking for a good deck to play in his Sunday tournament. He told me that the Belgian metagame consisted primarily of Stoneblade Maverick and Storm. Suddenly all of the list's quirks made perfect sense!
If there wasn't a hugely prevalent Lightning Bolt deck Thoughtseize would be way better than Duress or Inquisition of Kozilek since taking an Ill-Gotten Gains or an Ad Nauseam would be worth the two life. In American Magic though having the ability to take a Jace would rarely be worth it. After all you might be Thoughtseizing their Fireblast and that is not how I would define value.
Similarly if Storm is everywhere you can't realistically cut down on Force of Wills. Since the American metagame is so fair though Force of Will is pretty clearly the worst card in the deck. Here's the list of blue spells in the original list just so we're on the same page:
That's eighteen blue spells. The general threshold of blue cards in a deck for casting a single Force of Will over the course of a game is sixteen. If you want to cast a second Force of Will you want twenty blue cards. Those numbers are mostly meaningless though without context. The context in this situation is that two of your three best cards are blue. Brainstorm Stoneforge Mystic and Snapcaster Mage are the most powerful cards in your deck. Throwing Brainstorms and Snapcasters away to Force of Will is going to both put you down on cards and take away your two best means of recouping card advantage and card quality. That's a huge problem.
I realized all of that in the short time I was able to test the deck on Friday. I shelved the deck unhappy with it but lacking the time and team infrastructure to make it better. My roommates all knew that they were on aggressive decks and didn't want to waste a bunch of time testing against a weird brew that I wasn't 100% sure I was playing.
Prior to the tournament Tom told me that he was going to play my 75 in the dark. I resignedly sent him a text message a few minutes into Saturday morning telling him that the plan after all this time was going to be RUG Delver. I heard nothing from him and fell asleep around 2 AM.
I woke up to several texts and missed calls. "I'm on Esper" the first text read. It was 8 AM. "I WANT to be on Esper. How do you have a workable list? You've been on a redeye to Chicago" I shot back.
"Sam Black and I have been talking about it all night. He made it much better."
"Great send me a list."
He sent me the above list. I liked most of it but made the following changes:
-1 Tower of the Magistrate
-1 Force of Will
+1 Academy Ruins
+1 Engineered Explosives
+1 Spell Snare
+1 Inquisition of Kozilek
+1 Mana Leak
I liked 84% of my changes and always loved having a 23rd land. No prizes for guessing which change sucked and got boarded out in literally every matchup. No I have no idea why I cut Counterspell either. In case you were tracking how the deck looks after my changes yes I was playing Intuition and a lot of two-ofs. No I never Intuitioned for anything but Lingering Souls and Jaces. Getting cute with Intuition (or god forbid adding a bunch more to the deck) is a great way to start losing games. If you're a big fan of losing games feel free to turn this into an Intuition-based control deck.
The sideboard looked much better to me. He sent me the following:
2 Spell Pierce
3 Surgical Extraction
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Force of Will
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Blue Elemental Blast
I didn't really like the Blue Elemental Blast since it was basically a more restrictive Spell Pierce that could kill Goblin Guide and Grim Lavamancer at the expense of not hitting High Tide Dark Ritual Show and Tell Orim's Chant Seething Song Sneak Attack Chalice of the Void and a bunch of other cards that could actually matter in this Legacy format. Moving forward I'd probably cut it but a lot of people that I respect were playing U/R Delver at the Grand Prix so it seemed like a reasonable card to be playing if I was planning on doing well.
Since I had cut the Vindicate for a maindeck Engineered Explosives I decided to roll with a fourth piece of graveyard hate. I added Tormod's Crypt over the fourth Surgical Extraction. My thought process went as follows:
- There are a lot of people who play graveyard decks that try to board against the full range of possible answers to their decks. This is most pronounced in Dredge pilots where they could bring in Ancient Grudge for Tormod's Crypt or Noxious Revival/Memory's Journey for Surgical Extraction.
- If I show them both bad players will bring both in and dilute their deck trying to beat my hate cards and will probably lose to my basic plan of Stoneforge into Batterskull.
- If I show them one and not the other I can still mise the unseen one for more blowout value.
- Good players will play around the one that I'm more likely to play which since I'm playing Snapcaster Mage is Surgical Extraction. This means I'll get more value out of Crypt.
Naturally I failed to realize that Dredge is going to board in Grudges against my Stoneforge Mystic deck anyway so Crypt isn't actually all that but that didn't really come up since I only played against Dredge once. Going forward I'd probably cut the Crypt and keep the three Extractions.
Cutting Edict gave us a slot to work with. I wanted a second Darkblast for all the G/W decks in the room but Grand Prix Indianapolis 2008 Top 8 player Ben Rasmussen came up with something far better. As it turns out Zealous Persecution is half-Massacre half-Rally the Peasants and pretty tough for G/W Maverick to beat. If you draw a Darkblast on turn four it's pretty mediocre against an active Mother of Runes. If you draw a Zealous Persecution on turn four it kills three of their creatures and lets you Plow their Knight of the Reliquary. This is a big difference. It also gives you a nice backdoor out against Belcher since it doesn't take much persecution to Empty the Warrens for good.
The reason why Tom decided to stick to Sam's version of the deck over mine actually centered on Force of Will. I was fine cutting down to two Forces in the maindeck something Tom and Sam couldn't abide. If the deck was going to play three Forces it needed around nineteen blue cards. Since I cut a Force for a Spell Snare and a Ponder for a land I was on eighteen blue cards. Tom couldn't really play the 23rd land and still play three Forces so that change had to revert. My Mana Leak decision was miserable and I regretted it all day so don't follow in my footsteps there. Not sure what I was thinking since this deck has eighteen blue sources and I'm willing to play Counterspell in any U/W Stoneblade list with seventeen blue sources.
His decision to play Vindicate was motivated by wanting the option to Intuition for Vindicate + Snapcaster + Snapcaster a Christmasland scenario that seemed unreasonable to me. What permanent is so threatening that you want to spent 2U + 2WUB over two turns and assume all three of your spells are going to resolve? It's definitely not a creature since you could Intuition for Plows and do this with four mana. That leaves artifact enchantment land and planeswalker. It also can't be a manland since you could Plow that as well. It can't be Choke or Blood Moon since you won't have the mana to cast all that under Choke and if you can cast all that under Blood Moon you don't need to blow up their Blood Moon.
That pretty much just leaves Jace and you can Intuition for all three of those and kill theirs for a mana less. Sure you lose access to your Jaces but both of your plans suck because they have an active Jace which means that you're not going to resolve all three of your spells. In conclusion Vindicate is mostly worse than Engineered Explosives so play Engineered Explosives.
So after all of that what would I change about this list? Here's the deck again for reference:
I would make the following changes:
-1 Tower of the Magistrate: Besides being low-impact in a format where your colored sources should be high-impact it's pretty terrible against what Sam and Tom wanted it to be good against. Their argument was that you could knock equipment off of things against U/W and G/W. That's fine and all but they play Wastelands so this is not a really successful game plan going long. I would much rather have…
+1 Academy Ruins: Now this is a card that has an impact against U/W and G/W decks! One of the big parts of the G/W matchup is keeping your equipment alive. You protect your equipment you win easily. You don't and suddenly you have to kill all their dudes and protect your Jace. You're still very good at this because Lingering Souls is about as fair and balanced as Fox News but Umezawa's Jitte on a flier is just so much easier. If they decide to make life hard and Pridemage your Jitte though wouldn't you rather have an Academy Ruins than a Tower of the Magistrate? Rebuying your only Jitte is going to do a lot more for you than knocking a Sword off of their guy or knocking the Batterskull off of their Germ.
In the Stone mirror (as I expect will become more popular) the primary fight is the one to kill the other side's equipment. This happens with Inquisitions Thoughtseizes and each side's solo Disenchant plus Snapcaster Mages. Having an Academy Ruins to rebuy equipment is absolutely huge. Being able to recur Engineered Explosives is just gravy.
-1 Vindicate +1 Engineered Explosives: As discussed previously. Vindicate is a good card don't get me wrong. I just don't think it's the right card for this deck. This is a deck that has no one-drops and really wants ways to recoup lost tempo against the Goose/Delver decks. Engineered Explosives is real good against them and Vindicate is real bad against them. I would also take EE over Vindicate against Maverick. Sure Vindicate is better against Stoneblade but our deck is better against Stoneblade than it is against Maverick and RUG Delver. I'd rather have the help in the closer matchups.
I would change very little about the sideboard. I boarded in every card except for Blue Elemental Blast over the course of the tournament and was happy with each one. If the Lingering Souls mirror starts being a big problem here are a few tips for playing it correctly:
- Never let them Surgical your Lingering Souls. I don't care if you have three mana and a Lingering Souls in your hand don't expose it to Surgical. Similarly Brainstorms are incredibly valuable as ways to protect your key cards (Jaces Mystics and Lingering Souls) from getting Extracted.
- Surgical their Surgicals if they let you. Given that you should have two-to-three Surgicals in after sideboarding being able to have a monopoly on the Lingering Souls war going late is a big deal.
- Don't cast Inquisition or Thoughtseize on turn 1. Anyone who played Darkblade in Standard knows this one: just wait for them to get their equipment then make them discard it. Getting a Mystic with a discard spell is pretty bad since this is going to be an attrition war. Getting an equipment is a big game especially since they either have no way of getting it back or they have exactly one Academy Ruins.
- Don't expose your Batterskull to Disenchant. This one should be fairly straightforward. Don't do it. On a similar note save your Vendilion Clique for when they activate Stoneforge Mystic and attempt to put Batterskull into play.
- If you think they have Swords to Plowshares and your board is Stoneforge Mystic + empty Batterskull activate Mystic and respond with Batterskull's (3) ability.
- Don't Zealous Persecution when they have mana up if you don't have to. If you need to kill their Jace and there's a Spirit standoff fine. But if you just want to kill a few tokens and get in there know that you could get punished by their Persecution in response.
If you have any more questions I'd be happy to address them on Twitter or in the comments section. Kudos to Kasper Euser for coming up with the deck Marijn Lybaert for a very realistic called shot Sam Black for tuning the deck and Tom Martell for winning the whole thing.
If you have questions for the winner he's easily found @tom_martell on Twitter.
Until next week
@drew_levin on Twitter