The good news: Grand Prix Denver was won by Esper Stoneblade. The bad news: it wasn't piloted by me! In all seriousness, congratulations to Vidianto Wijaya on his victory, and I'm excited for the many opportunities to play high-level Legacy at Grand Prix and StarCityGames.com events this year. But I want to get a leg up on the rest of the format, as I'm sure you all do. So what does this Top 8 tell us about the format moving forward?
Well, for starters, I've seen Wijaya's name in many SCG Legacy Open Top 8s, and he frequently plays Stoneblade, which should be another reminder to all of us that proficiency and comfort with a deck outweighs many external metagame factors when preparing for a Legacy tournament. Matt Nass' success with Elves and Pat Cox's success with Jund at this GP hammer this point home even further, as those two have played those respective decks many times in many formats. So pick your spot and get comfortable with playing that deck!
"But Ben," you say, "what should I pick? I want to do well at the Legacy Open in my area!" Well, the way I see it, picking a Legacy deck is kind of like picking a starter Pokemon in the Red/Blue version. If you choose a Brainstorm deck, things are going to be challenging for you in the beginning, much like Charmander was a tough Pokemon to use against the first two Gym Leaders. However, the payoff of having a sweet Charizard in the end made the option too attractive for many to pass up.
If you want to find yourself learning lots of painful lessons about reserving Brainstorms for the right time and learning what to counter and what to play around, Esper Stoneblade, BUG Midrange, RUG Delver, and to a lesser extent U/W Miracles, High Tide, BUG Delver, and (strangely enough) Sam Black's Zombies are fine choices for a steep learning curve introduction to Legacy.
Then there's Squirtle, who had an easy time beating Brock and needed a little extra help beating Misty but from there became a total badass in Blastoise. The Legacy equivalent might be the skill-intensive combo/aggro-combo decks, such as Show and Tell, Storm, Goblins, and Elves. RUG Delver might also fall into this category because Delver can give you plenty of free wins but playing the deck at 100% proficiency is nigh impossible.
Bulbasaur made things very easy in the beginning. You cruised through the first two gyms, but in the end, you had some challenges with latter parts of the game. Jund, Belcher, Affinity, Burn, Zoo, and Dredge would serve a Legacy novice very well as easy decks to run people over with from the beginning, but many skilled players piloting decks with Brainstorms can find their answers and grind you out. You don't have as much control over the way the game plays out; you are, more so than with the Brainstorm decks, at the mercy of your draws and your opponents' draws.
Now, before anyone flames me too much for this comparison, let me be clear. You can win with any of the aforementioned decks, and you will gain skills in understanding Legacy no matter what deck you choose. Budget constraints may keep you playing Burn even when you'd rather pick up High Tide, and that's okay. Just like in Pokemon, you can get an awesome team and beat the game with any of the starters, and a huge amount of the choice comes down to personal preference.
My personal recommendation, though, is as follows. If you have no Legacy experience whatsoever but have played Standard and Modern a good amount, Jund is the deck for you. It's fairly intuitive to play, has a ton of raw power, and there's a ton of crossover between it and the Modern version, which helps you save a little money. A lot of the pricy pickups for the deck are staples that will not lose value, like Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Wasteland, Thoughtseize, and dual lands. You can definitely win with it, and it will certainly teach you a lot about Legacy just from playing against the huge gauntlet of different decks. The fact that you get a lot of free wins from curving Thoughtseize into Dark Confidant or Hymn to Tourach into Liliana is just icing on the cake.
My suggestion for the deck to play for those of you who can acquire any card in Legacy and want to work hard for your wins and learn from them is, of course, Stoneblade. The fact that your role is so flexible in each match and that you often lean on Brainstorm to give you virtual mulligans to set up for a given matchup means that you're never unprepared for an opponent. You always have to think about what cards they have and how you can best play around everything. Your most appealing advantage is in your sideboard, where you can try to pack in ways to position yourself perfectly against your opponent no matter what they're playing.
Don't let my recommendations sway you from playing the deck you like, though. Show and Tell, Elves, Storm, High Tide, BUG variations of all types, really anything that isn't Belcher (sorry Cedric!) are excellent choices for developing your skills in Legacy. The way to have the best of both worlds is, unsurprisingly, to get Pokemon Yellow to get all of the starters! I mean, uh, to try a lot of different decks to get a better sense of Legacy.
Tournament report time! I didn't prepare as much as I would have liked for GP Denver, mainly because I was at home and didn't have a Legacy deck on Magic Online. I still got to talk about my list with a few skilled players like Matt Hoey, Craig Wescoe, and Matt Scott. The night before the tournament, Matt Scott suggested two Spell Snare in the maindeck, and I immediately latched on to the idea. Snare has gotten a lot better with the increase in Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, and Hymn to Tourach as a result of BUG's growing popularity, and its stock should only continue to rise with Jund's recent success.
If I were going to play in a Legacy tournament tomorrow, the only changes I might make would be cutting a Lingering Souls from the sideboard for another cheap answer, perhaps a second Path to Exile or a Disenchant or maybe a Spell Snare. A second Ponder might be a great choice as well because more cantrips always increases the impact of your sideboard cards. I really like where this list is at, and I wish there was another Legacy Grand Prix in the next couple of weeks so I could battle with it.
Flusterstorm was a powerful card for me, and I think its stock will continue to rise over the next several months. There's no better blue answer to Red Elemental Blast than making lots of Dazes. By slotting perfectly against all the Red Blasts in Show and Tell and Storm strategies, Flusterstorm is awesome. Against combo decks, it might just be better than Force of Will and could merit a fourth copy in the board.
My first round was against eventual Top 8 finisher Dan Signorini, one of the best "Legacy only" players you'll find. I'm sure he'd do well if he expanded to other formats, but he seems content to be a master of the one he enjoys the most. I lost to him quickly, as I drew a "Brainstorm for lands" hand that didn't materialize game 1, and in game 2 he had the kind of draw I couldn't possibly beat. I had a very interesting choice, though, and I may have messed it up.
Turn 1 on the play, I Inquisitioned him to see Deathrite Shaman, Delver of Secrets, Hymn to Tourach, Sylvan Library, Daze, and two fetchlands. I decided to take Deathrite Shaman because I thought that I couldn't beat Deathrite into turn 2 Hymn + Delver + Daze. I think that was wrong in retrospect because Sylvan Library ended up pulling Dan far ahead; if I had taken Sylvan and played to grind him out, I think I would have won. I had an Engineered Explosives in my hand and expected to get the Library with it, but Dan ended up peeling a Deathrite on his first turn and Sinkhole + Sylvan Library put me back too far to recover. An interesting decision, nevertheless.
I battled back rounds 5 and 6, beating Miracles and Mono-Green Infect, which was an interesting match. I played very poorly, and I think it was because I hadn't eaten anything for about 24 hours at that point. My deck came through for me, and I pulled out the win. Alas, it didn't last, as round 7 I lost to Sneak and Show when in game 3 he peeled Show and Tell into Griselbrand with no other relevant cards in hand. Rats! I guess that's why people play decks like that, though. Round 8 was another nail-biter, but I beat Miracles again when he failed to Brainstorm into a second land in game 2. Well, that was easy!
Day 2 started with wins over Omni-Tell, BUG Delver, and Sneak and Show, but I lost my bid for Top 8 when I mulliganed on the play each game against Sneak and Show and failed to hit land drops when my Brainstorms needed to turn up fetchlands. To say it was disappointing to lose twice to Sneak and Show in this tournament would be an understatement, as my sideboard was specifically designed to demolish combo decks. I knew that I needed to win the next round to be able to draw into Top 32, and I beat Storm when he went for it turn 1 game 3 and I had the Force of Will. Skill game, etc.
I drew with Paulo to finish off the tournament, and we both snuck into Top 32. The weird thing about this tournament was how many unfair decks I played against. Out of eleven rounds of play, I faced two Miracle decks and two BUG decks, four Show and Tell decks, an Infect deck, and a Storm deck. Paulo was also playing Sneak and Show, so if we'd played our match out that would have been another unfair deck to add to the total.
What this tells me is that Legacy is predictably unpredictable. There is no real way to metagame for a Legacy tournament, especially a Grand Prix. You have to be prepared for everything. Elves was not on anyone's radar as a major player prior to Denver, but Matt Nass tore through the field. Jund had no major finishes prior to the GP (although people were starting to chatter about it after a stellar performance at the Invitational), but it put up exceptional results in the hands of Pat Cox and Josh Ravitz. The best thing a player can do is have a plan for each major type of strategy and be able to tweak that plan on the fly depending on the specifics of a given matchup.
I have four different "strategies" that I like to be prepared for. Perhaps these categorizations will help you prepare your sideboard more effectively.
1. Unfair: Storm, Show and Tell, Belcher, Hypergenesis, Reanimator, High Tide, Enchantress, and conditionally Elves, Aluren, Burn, and Poison all fall in this category. Discard and countermagic rule the day here. Dredge is a special case, as you have to specifically be prepared for it if you want to beat it consistently. For the unfair decks with creature interactions as part of their strategy, spot removal can be devastatingly effective as well, so plan accordingly.
2. Fair Mana Harassment: Wasteland + Daze strategies are the key here, specifically Merfolk, RUG Delver, BUG Delver, and anything else with Stifle to hinder your mana development. The answer is to keep hands that are resilient to mana denial and to pick the spots to play around Daze and Stifle. Cheap answers like Swords to Plowshares and Engineered Explosives are great here.
3. Fair Grindy: Stoneblade, BUG Midrange, Sam Black Zombies, Jund, and Maverick are all at wildly different ends of the spectrum of fair grindy decks, which means you have to have a good feel for each matchup individually to properly combat its strategy. Surgical Extraction can answer Zombies' key engines but is useless against Jund and Maverick. Supreme Verdict is horrible against Stoneblade and awesome against Maverick.
The thing that groups these decks together is that they have no real way of totally locking out an opponent but seek to establish a dominant board presence through incremental advantages. Be prepared for long games and recognize that you can generally keep hands without specific answers against these decks as long as you have a coherent plan of answers or threats to push ahead of them.
For example, I'll keep a hand of five lands, Stoneforge Mystic, and Supreme Verdict against Maverick because I know I'll be able to hold them off with Stoneforge until it's time for some good old-fashioned Wrath action. If they have a Gaddock Teeg, so be it. Batterskull will hopefully buy me enough time to find a Swords to Plowshares or other effective answer.
The key is that because you're generally given several turns to set up against these decks and find answers, you don't have to freak out about not having the turn 1 Swords to Plowshares or Force of Will or Thoughtseize. Coincidentally, these are the decks that I actively enjoy losing the die roll against. I don't mind being on the draw since none of my early game resources are being unilaterally taxed and I'm not in danger of dying on turn 2.
4. Lock: U/W Miracles, Thopter-Sword, Lands, and Stax variants fall into this small category. Enchantress could be considered a lock deck as well in a way. You have to know these decks specifically since often they have large weaknesses to the midrange grindy decks without assembling a powerful lock involving Life from the Loam, Counterbalance, Thopter + Sword, or many Chalice of the Void type effects.
You'll need your Force of Wills here to break up the soft locks, and you may need graveyard hate or specific removal spells to stay afloat. Discard is often awesome here as well because you can strand the opponent with only part of the combo and leave them with many dead or very weak cards. Though these decks make up a small part of the metagame, learn to recognize them since you'll need to know what to counter after seeing maybe as little as one spell from them.
This categorization may be second nature to many of you already, but if you're just starting to get into Legacy, it can be an excellent cheat sheet for your game plans in many matchups. Study up, and I'll be back next week with some analysis of Grand Prix Atlantic City and where Gatecrash spoilers may move Standard!