Okay, maybe that article title is misleading. I don't intend to give up writing about my favorite topic, and I know there are a bunch of you out there who will want my latest list, week in and week out. For you I say, don't fret, because I'll be playing and tuning Stoneblade as long as there are Legacy tournaments for me to win.
For the last month, though, that wasn't the case. I experimented with Delver, as you may remember from this, and I even got convinced to play BUG Control at the SCG Invitational in Indianapolis (never again!). For this tournament, I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. I really wanted to win, and I knew that Stoneblade wasn't getting the respect it deserved. Out of the other "real" decks in Legacy (Maverick, Reanimator, Sneak and Show, RUG Delver), only Stoneblade had been getting roundly ignored in discussion of the metagame.
New contenders like Elves and Goblins were stealing the spotlight, and I knew that those two would be especially vulnerable to my particular list of Esper Stoneblade. At this point, I consider Legacy to be something of a specialty of mine, and I could just see myself tearing through a field of less-prepared players. I even nearly convinced Matt Costa to play my list, although I couldn't get him off the Griselbrand train in time to save him from an ignominious finish. If that isn't a testament to Stoneblade's power, I don't know what is.
Without further ado, here's the list I played and why I played the cards I did.
First up are the set of Forces and the set of Snapcaster Mages. You need to have more protection considering how many decks are trying to cheat Griselbrand into play on turn 2. Additionally, with Belcher starting to come into its own with a Top 8 at GP Atlanta, you don't want to be unprepared to battle a bunch of turn 1 attempts on your life. Snapcaster Mage is simply the bee's knees. It's great against Maverick as additional Swords to Plowshares. It's great against combo as more discard spells, more Spell Pierces, and fodder for your Cabal Therapy in games 2 and 3. It's also a great candidate to pitch to Force of Will as a blue spell that isn't Brainstorm (which physically pains me every time I have to pitch it). Don't leave home without your sets of these cards; they're simply concessions to the fact that you're an answer deck and therefore need flexible, cheap answers.
Next up is the MVP: Engineered Explosives. I got three Mother of Runes and a Noble Hierarch with it once, which should tell you how much I love this card. I get to answer Nimble Mongoose with it, and it's always great to cast it for zero to pop some Insectile Aberrations. I can answer Entreat the Angels, Counterbalance locks, or bunches of Wild Nacatls with equal ease. And if you ever play against Elves with this card, you'll see why that deck can't beat anything with the word "Engineered" in its name. Getting to play Academy Ruins as a value card for bringing back Batterskull against Ancient Grudge or locking them out with EE is just gravy. This is the future of Stoneblade as another cheap answer to a lot of cards that should be problematic for you.
The best trick with this one is that Thalia does nothing against it. Cast Explosives with X=1, pay the additional Thalia mana with a different color of mana, and you now have two charge counters on an EE that you only spent two mana to cast. It's even better when they have Fauna Shaman, Qasali Pridemage, or Scavenging Ooze out there too. I just hope people don't catch on, because this card singlehandedly brought me victory against the two Maverick decks I played against at the Grand Prix. I might bump it up to four copies total, cutting that lame Perish or Vindicate from the board for more explosive goodness!
What's next? Oh yeah, there's this card that I didn't play maindeck that everyone else did. It's called Lingering Souls, and it's not very good when Griselbrand is the order of the day. This card is not a sacred cow, despite rumors to the contrary. That is the dogmatic reason why people blindly believed Stoneblade was unplayable (I'm looking at you, Drew Levin!) in a Griselbrand format. Surprise, surprise: you're an answer deck has to adapt when a different threat emerges. I sided it in versus RUG and Maverick, and I was quite happy not having it stinking up my game 1s versus the other decks. After all, Vendilion Clique is the more widely applicable three-drop, and it's not much worse than Souls when you just need to trade off with a Delver or a Mongoose.
To be fair, I'm considering bringing back Lingering Souls to the starting 60, but the deck is just so much smoother when you don't have three-mana sorceries game 1. It's not like you're cold to aggro game 1 either. RUG won't have Ancient Grudge in game 1, nor will Maverick have Choke, so your Batterskull will just win the game. You can afford to sacrifice a couple of game 1 percentage points against those decks to hedge against the truly scary opponents who don't want to play fair.
Basically, if you take any message away from this, it's don't listen to dogmatic ideas about what "must" remain in your deck because in a rapidly shifting format like Legacy, nothing is a sacred cow. Except Jace. I'd never dip below three of him. He's special, though. :)
As for Spell Pierce and discard spells, well, that's how your deck beats Griselbrand decks. I am perplexed by how people managed to get stuck on the idea that Stoneblade plays slow, clunky spells and therefore can't beat combo. When you're playing the best spell colors in Legacy, you can change literally anything about your deck and your matchup percentages. This list will beat Reanimator more often than not simply because of the abundance of cheap, interactive spells. If I wanted to beat RUG all of the time, I'd probably play more lands and Lingering Souls main as well as a bunch more Explosives to answer their threats. I think that this list hedges about as well as it feasibly can against the wide variety of decks in a Legacy tournament.
The last contentious points about this decklist are the lack of Sword of Feast and Famine and the inclusion of the Intuition/Therapy/Souls package. Well, I just happen to love casting Cabal Therapy. It's probably the second most skill-intensive card in Legacy after Brainstorm (Sensei's Divining Top is third). You can play more Thoughtseize if you don't fancy yourself a Therapy sharpshooter. Intuition for Lingering Souls is a great midgame play to ensure that no matter what, you're not going to lose the game. You now get to set up your late game with the security of eight additional chump blockers at your beck and call. You also get a fourth virtual Surgical Extraction against Dredge, which is critically important when every slot in your sideboard needs to pull its weight in as many matchups as possible.
I still board in the Intuition even when I'm not boarding in the Souls just because I get to fetch up some Cabal Therapies and sacrifice my extra Snapcaster Mages / Stoneforge Mystics / Vendilion Cliques to rip my opponent's hand to shreds. There's no better feeling than going Thoughtseize into Cabal Therapy against combo, and you get to play that game with my sideboard.
Sword of Feast and Famine is bad against Reanimator. It's good against Sneak and Show (the less common Griselbrand deck) and acceptable against the mirror, RUG, and Maverick. Jitte is bad against Reanimator and Sneak and Show and awesome against the other three decks. This is a case of the second equipment needing to be high-impact in matches where you want to be casting Stoneforge Mystic. Mystic is mediocre in general against combo, and you're not going to do better than Batterskull in those matchups anyway, so you don't need to make Mystic better by playing a worse equipment. Jitte actually kills Mother of Runes, gains you life when you draw it naturally against RUG, and shoots Lingering Souls tokens out of the sky in the mirror match. It's also important since you can use yours to kill their Jitte, which would dominate you otherwise.
To quickly recap my tournament, I flew down Friday evening, meeting up with the awesome crew of Costa, Jason Ford, Justin Desai, Ryan Bogner, Jarvis Yu, Reid Duke, Ian Duke, and Max Brown at the site hotel and battling Jarvis to get in some practice. I played very poorly in our practice games, but I'm glad that I got in some games to prepare myself to play the deck after a long hiatus.
Day 1 started with a match against Goblins, where after an awkward game 1 where I didn't do anything except die, Stoneforge took things down quickly in games 2 and 3. Since Stoneforge is the key, protecting it or being sure that you'll be able to cast Batterskull in time is the deciding factor in the matchup.
I played against Korey McDuffie, a good friend and tough competitor, in round 5. He was playing Sneak and Show, and after stabilizing with a pair of Force of Wills and a Snapcaster Mage in hand, I drew many, many lands in a row and ended up losing to a turn 15 or so Sneak Attack. Game 2 I quickly ripped up his hand and landed Jace, and game 3 was an exciting one.
I Surgical Extracted his Ponders just to see what he was up to and saw a mediocre grip of cards. I cast a Cabal Therapy two turns later, and after seeing Pyroblast in Korey's hand, I made one of the bigger brain farts of my Magic career and confidently named "Red Elemental Blast." How embarrassing! I was sufficiently mad at myself, but I luckily managed to flashback the Therapy, protect myself from a combo, and assemble Jace to win in barely enough time. I needed to tighten up, and I was extremely lucky to win after making such a blunder.
Fortunately, I was paired against RUG Delver and won a tight match in which my opponent admitted to having made some mistakes and drew a lot of lands. The RUG matchup is very close, and it hinges on you smoothly hitting your land drops and removal; it gets much, much better if your opponent messes up anywhere. You frequently have to get aggressive, just jam your bombs, and hope your opponent doesn't have the Daze / Spell Pierce to blow you out.
Anyway, I experienced the flip side of this matchup when I played against Chris Pikula the very next round, and his RUG deck finished me in about twelve minutes total. I wasn't too mad since I knew that the matchup is fairly close, and I had to expect at least one loss to it over the tournament. I am pretty happy that I was able to maintain an even keel and keep playing to the best of my ability for the last two rounds of Day 1.
The next round was against Lisa playing Maverick. Just as I was stabilizing game 1, she looked through her deck with a fetchland and announced that she had forgotten to de-sideboard. A game loss was issued, and after beating me down game 2, I got a fairly anticlimactic game 3 win with an early Stoneforge.
The last round of Day 1 was against the one and only Drew Levin playing the big bad villain, Reanimator. Game 1 I drew a hand with Karakas so I snap-kept, knowing what he was playing. We got to a situation where he Reanimated, I picked a fight over it, and after "allowing" it to resolve, putting Drew to one card in hand and eight life, I untapped, drew, and immediately dropped the sandbagged Karakas to bounce Griselbrand. Drew paid seven life in response, going to one life, and I responded with a Vendilion Clique. Now he was stuck since I had Karakas and Vendilion Clique to his one life. I won the next turn. Game 2 we got into a fight over my Surgical Extraction, and I won the fight with a Force of Will and a Spell Pierce, exiling all his Griselbrands and making it very hard for him to win. I then won with Stoneforge Mystic / Batterskull.
I was reasonably happy to end Day 1 at 8-1, but I knew my work would be cut out for me on the second day. I just hoped to play against more random green creature decks and Reanimator.
Day 2 started with me testing against Ryan Bogner to warm up for the tournament, Stoneblade versus Reanimator, and winning most of the games. I was excited going into round 10, but I took horrible lines of play versus Zoo and let him burn me out when I should have won easily games 2 and 3. Ugh. I had mixed up the Maverick and Zoo matchup plans, and by playing so conservatively, I had lost a match I should have easily taken. I was pretty tilted, but I knew that I could easily win the rest of my matches, so after a quick ten minutes of chilling out on a bench outside the tournament room, I was ready to keep battling. I won game 1 in round 11 against the mirror with an aggressive Batterskull that my opponent couldn't match and got game two with Intuition for Lingering Souls.
Round 12 was against Adam Cai playing Maverick. After dropping to one life against his not-very-aggressive start of three Mother of Runes, Noble Hierarch, and Thalia, I stabilized by topdecking an Engineered Explosives followed by a Swords to Plowshares on Thalia. Jace cleaned up the game, and game 2 was less close, with me answering every threat (including Vindicating a Loyal Retainers upped Elesh Norn!) and eventually putting it away with Jace.
Then round 13 happened against Ryan, which was a written feature match. Ryan got pretty unlucky, drawing mediocre hands while I carefully disrupted him and stuck a Vendilion Clique to end it. Game 2 was a bloodbath when I removed all his Griselbrands and left him with almost no way to win. Oh well, that's how it goes sometimes.
Round 14 was on camera against Mary Jacobson playing Zoo. She messed up a bunch, by her own admission, and games 1 and 3 I stuck a Stoneforge that won the game easily after I protected it from Fireblast. She also missed land drops in game 3, which never helps when an angry Stoneforge is ready to drop in a Batterskull.
I played against Daryl Ayers in round 15. I had hoped to be able to draw into Top 8 this round, but it was not to be since Sam Black got a concession from his opponent. I would have been 9th had I drawn, except that I didn't realize that Ben Stark played it out at table 1, and when he won, I could have made Top 8 had I drawn. Anyway, game 1 I picked a fight over what I knew were Stifles in Daryl's hand, but I think that I picked the fight at an inappropriate time. I didn't need to fight then and there, and I could have waited another turn or two in hopes of drawing more non-fetchlands. He hadn't put any pressure on me yet so it shouldn't have been a concern, but I got jumpy and lost because of it. Game 2 I needed him to brick on one of his three remaining Lightning Bolts for three turns so my Jace could put the game away, but he made it on his last shot. That was depressing, to say the least. Congrats to Daryl on qualifying for Seattle, though!
I ended up in 12th; not bad, but I was still incredibly disappointed that I punted more than I think I should have. I just want to play in more Legacy GPs since it's clearly the best form of Constructed Magic there is. Hopefully the Modern one in Columbus can quench my thirst for high-level Eternal Magic. I want to make it six Constructed GP Top 16s in a row, so wish me luck. I'll likely have an article up about the Modern metagame to help you all prep for the GP, so be on the lookout for that.
Good luck to those of you playing in the next StarCityGames.com Open Series, and see you all in Columbus!