The previous week's Legacy Open told the world that Jund—specifically Punishing Jund—would be the Deck to Beat on Sunday. Our car decided that the right solution would be some kind of Volcanic Islands. Josh Ravitz and Thea Steele played Sneak and Show; I played U/R Delver.
The theory I had was to let them do what they wanted and win anyway; the combo contingent decided to just go over the top. Either strategy seems effective, but I would argue that—if you are just gunning to beat Jund—U/R Delver has fewer holes.
You probably know that Josh ended up making Top 8, and [the bastard] beat me very quickly in the first feature match of Sunday. He got me on turn one in the first game, and my marginal Brainstorm went nowhere in game two.
A few rounds later I took my second loss to a Goblin Charbelcher deck, who again beat me on the first turn on the play.
Over the course of the other seven rounds of the tournament, I only played one game three, having only lost matches where I was done on the first turn #humblebrags [very humble].
Here's how the rounds went down:
1. Esper Stoneblade W 1-0 / 2-0
2. RUG Delver (Harry Corvese) W 2-0 / 2-0
3. Sneak and Show (Josh Ravitz) L 2-1 / 0-2
4. Jund W 3-1 / 2-0
5. Belcher L 3-2 / 1-2
6. Jund W 4-2 / 2-0
7. Storm W 5-2 /2-1
8. Omniscience W 6-2 / 2-0
9. ID 6-2-1 / 0-0
The Belcher loss—probably not surprisingly—was pretty tough. In game one I topdecked a Ponder on my last turn that would have won me the game on the spot if it had been a Brainstorm. I had several ways to deal 18-19 damage but no way to get the last point in (Price of Progress having no text against no lands), and I succumbed to multiple waves of Goblin attacks despite early Force of Will heroics.
I got game two despite his successfully getting Goblin Charbelcher in play; Goblin Guide told me over and over that he wasn't going to draw the Elvish Spirit Guide or Simian Spirit Guide he needed to win the game (I could counter anything else). It came down to this in game three.
Would you have kept this hand?
I will admit that I didn't think about it for very long until after the game was over. I snap-shipped and kept a perfectly good six-card Delver / Daze / Spell Pierce hand…that of course couldn't Daze from no lands in play.
He killed me with his snap-kept opener. Obviously.
I put out the “would you have kept this hand” question on Twitter, and the unanimous response from dozens of followers—including from greats like Ari Lax and Brad Nelson—was that everyone would have kept. Every single person said they would have kept! Allegedly.
This leads me to conclude many people are liars :)
I have a hard time believing that all the responding dozens would have had the bravery to keep a Force of Will hand that had an approximately one-in-three chance of becoming proactively relevant. Remember in game one I broke up his first turn with a Force of Will and eventually lost to Goblin tokens many turns later anyway. The pictured keep is atrocious if he doesn't go for the win immediately and generally doesn't do very much even if he does. Obviously the hand is everything you could ever ask for if we swap Lightning Bolt for some kind of [Volcanic] Island. But that wouldn't have been a hard keep or worthy of discussion.
It's not like a 6-2 in games played (no money difference on the last round ID) is awful or anything, even if we all tie the glory of any performance to making Top 8. And it is perhaps a moral victory to have only lost matches where I went down on the first turn. Not that we count moral victories in the final standings.
As you can see, the rest of the matches were pretty lopsided. This was intentional. I wanted to make a deck that beat up on Jund, and did so, with the added bonus of getting RUG Delver with similar cards; it was generally powerful overall. This is the 75 I played:
The maindeck is very similar to Chris Boozer's second-place deck from Birmingham about a year ago, with the main differences being which fetchlands I played (more on that in a sec). The macro notion is that if you are expecting Jund, there is really no way they can beat 4 Snapcaster Mage, 4 Submerge, and 4 Price of Progress. They are basically in a “damned if I do / damned if I don't” situation on land drops, and every guy in their deck other than Bloodbraid Elf is atrocious against Submerge.
It is possible I underrated Sulfuric Vortex, which is often played as a sideboard two-of in this archetype. It is a good foil to Batterskull but more importantly can turn off Punishing Fire; it may be ironic that turning off your own access to getting free life points drives you towards victory.
The Jund matchup is comforting on two dimensions. You have both certainty and inevitability. In many cases your opponent will also play cooperatively. The game is not on the battlefield, nor really hand-to-hand. The game is played on life total. I had one opponent keep in Thoughtseize and favor the uncounterability of Abrupt Decay. The reality is that Thoughtseize—any grinding card—is weak in-matchup…because Jund v. U/R is about racing not about trading. Thoughtseize actually gives you the best possible one-for-one trade because it also deals two to the opponent! You both lose a card, they spend mana and pay two life? If I could get my opponent to play nothing but cards like that I would! He can even take Price of Progress, but you are a Snapcaster Mage deck so that isn't even going to save him if he gives you enough time.
The perceived inviolability of Abrupt Decay is at best overrated…because you don't have (m)any counterspells after boards. Out Spell Pierce, out Force of Will, out one Daze for Submerge, Sulfuric Vortex, and the fourth Price of Progress; I kept the other Daze but would have gladly cut it if I played the stock double Vortex sideboard.
From the Jund side I would tend to keep in the card advantage discard—Hymn to Tourach and Liliana of the Veil—to disrupt burn and land development as much as possible, and not worry about elimination as much. U/R Delver doesn't care about its permanents as a rule. You only need to have 3-4 lands in play if you are going to Snap something, and your guys' defining characteristic is cost, not durability. If a Guide gets in twice, it's done its job.
I think Annul is probably the most underrated card, especially as this is a Snapcaster Mage deck. If you are playing against combo, the most dangerous hands are the ones where the opponent has fast artifact mana that allows them to circumvent your tax counterspells. Annul quite simply cuts off that potential advantage and doesn't need to do anything else to be awesome. In fact, what you want is to be able to get an Annul into the graveyard quickly—even if it is on a relatively weak exchange, like against a Lotus Petal—just so you have a catalyst for your cheapest two-for-one Snapcaster Mage.
Annul is there for Esper Stoneblade (it's not like they can keep a Stoneforge Mystic in play) plus stops everything up to and including Goblin Charbelcher in the Belcher deck. It doesn't counter “everything” that Sneak and Show can do…but even in the sideboarded game I lost to Josh on camera, he had two copies of Sneak Attack at the end of the game for my two copies of Annul. In our pickup games, I was a huge dog and didn't think that going to six was going to give me a better shot than my seven-card hand of several relevant cards but no clock. It was more a matter of my Brainstorm going nowhere, though of course his drawing a Show and Tell (so he didn't have to play into the Annuls) could have gone better for me. More on side pickup games, later, in Part One.
Goblin Guide is the BestWorst Card in the Deck
I did a fair bit of testing with various Legacy decks on MTGO and never wrapped my head around Goblin Guide being a good card. I did a lot more PSulli.dec testing than U/R Delver testing, and Goblin Guide was much worse in the straight Red deck—constantly seemed to give freebies to opposing combo decks while never being fast enough.
But in U/R I kept not having enough cards I wanted to side out against decks like RUG Delver, managing to kill my opponent with three Goblin Guides through Tarmogoyf and Nimble Mongoose somehow. Goblin Guide is pretty good at penetrating Tarmogoyf when you have an active Grim Lavamancer but is the absolute best beatdown creature ever when you have Submerge in your deck.
Goblin Guide—especially multiple Goblin Guides—is unbelievable in two spots: 1) against Belcher (where they will almost never draw a land), and 2) when you have just Submerged your opponent's Tarmogoyf of Deathrite Shaman in a Jund / RUG situation. In these cases it is just a 2/2 haste creature for one mana, putting it well above the curve, even in a format where it has to contend with Nimble Mongoose on one.
Quick question. Dial it back to Shards-era Standard for a second. Your opponent, on the play plays this:
What do you put them on?
I assume it is a dramatically different answer than if they played this:
A few years back we were on Blightning Beatdown and decided it was right to play tri-lands to ensure colored mana. Josh changed the Savage Lands in my list to Crumbling Necropolis. I joked I could use the green to cast Boggart Ram-Gang (the only green card), but that is of course a non-factor, as either land can make the red required for the same.
Josh argued that you got more points on the first turn from Crumbling Necropolis, as the opponent would put you on Grixis Control; whereas the opponent put you on Jund for Savage Lands. And playing your first turn against Jund (especially the Jund of the era, which was very aggressive) was much closer to playing against the aggressive Blightning Beatdown than the presumably ponderous Grixis Control would be. The number of decisions the opponent might make wrongly would be on the order of 1-2 maximum, but over the course of the day, they could add up to a game.
Most importantly, it didn't cost us anything to make this change.
So, one gameplay note on how to play Goblin Guide and Grim Lavamancer early: Whenever you can, play your Bloodstained Mire and get a basic Mountain for your first-turn drop. Or you can play the Mountain if that is what you have; I wouldn't necessarily recommend wasting a Scalding Tarn for this, but I played Bloodstained Mire on purpose. B/R is unconsciously the most “offensive” red fetchland, and Arid Mesa is traditionally played in U/R Delver (though it doesn't matter which you play from a deck-searching standpoint). Many opponents will simply have a different unconscious reaction to a Bloodstained Mire than an Arid Mesa. Point being, you might be able to force a suboptimal choice by the opponent with very little cost if you can put them on putting you on PSulli.dec rather than U/R Delver if even for only one turn. I did this several times on the day and got noticeable reactions out of opponents on the second turn when it became obvious—from one Island or another—that they had put me on the wrong archetype.
My favorite match of the day was round two against noted pro Harry Corvese. First of all Harry was just awesome to play against; not only was he very personable he gave me some useful feedback about my sunglasses after the games. You may have seen me looking SUPER good in the Edison coverage:
So what happened was that there was a superstorm in the Northeast the day before Edison. I was walking around downtown New York minding my own business when a gigundous gust of wind came up and blew my glasses off! Right off my face! I tried to go recover them, but they tumbled into a combination of wet grey snow and oncoming traffic. I just so happened to be at a busy intersection that would always have cars coming one way or the other, and I am completely blind without my glasses.
Unlike a regular person / muggle who might be concerned about 1) the expense of the glasses, 2) being able to see, 3) overall productivity and / or inconvenience…I was mostly concerned about playing the next day; you know, blind.
My recourse was playing with my prescription sunglasses, which was suboptimal for a number of reasons (again, more in Part One). After our match, Harry not only told me that opponents might be able to see my hand in my glasses (which I knew, but again, the situation was going to be bad or very bad no matter what I did), he made a useful suggestion! Unfortunately I didn't bring a brimmed hat and wasn't about to borrow one from the population present.
Anyway, Harry played his RUG Delver super carefully and even caught me with Daze on Price of Progress. If he had played more impulsively, like I think most players would have with his draws, I would have just won very quickly and easily, but instead he challenged me to slow down to match his pace. My most difficult turn—I had to apologize as I tanked for a long moment—was simply to play my fifth land and eventually pass the turn! Between the usually blistering U/R Delver and the tempo-monster RUG Delver, let's just say it didn't go down the way I would have scripted it in any way but the W/L column.
In game one Goblin Guide revealed Spell Snare on Harry's top. So when Harry tried to Lightning Bolt my Guide, I Forced with a Snapcaster Mage (you know, which costs two) in an effort to get him to consider Brainstorming away his Spell Snare; it turns out that he had two Spell Snares! He didn't Brainstorm either away, and between the two of them, they did a good job of keeping Price of Progress and my two more Snapcaster Mages from being lethal quickly. It came down to a race between his hand and Nimble Mongoose and my Grim Lavamancer (and no hand). Luckily little Lavamancer survived two Brainstorms and a Ponder, nobody revealing a Lightning Bolt.
How to Win a PTQ: Or, a Failure of Planning
If there is anything I am dissatisfied with, it is my own failure of planning.
At the beginning of the day, I tweeted this (from Nick Spagnolo's dealer table):
Nick put my $50 on the appropriate spot.
I was a bit torn on my Day One performance. Josh thought “merely” a money finish was no cause for celebration. My deck was outstanding, and I certainly could have done a couple of things better…but I chose not to be upset with one of Pete Hoefling's $50 bills. It was, after all, exactly as well as I had done in my last Open, when I lost playing for Top 8 on camera, only to tumble all the way to 17th place [in the previous prize structure].
Why was this a failure of planning?
Did I in fact not do almost everything right that I could?
I picked a deck that was perfect for the metagame I predicted—and executed mostly on spec. I lost twice, sure…but one of them was in an atrocious matchup (Josh) and the other was to a first-turn kill. Well, both losses were to first-turn kills! Sucks! Happens :(
No, the failure was in my stated desire to improve on the previous day's performance.
Because that's exactly what I did.
I didn't plan hard enough, or far enough ahead. I should have said I was going to win the whole thing…and maybe I would have. All I did was set my sights on one click up.
Can't really be upset given that I delivered on my stated desired outcome, now can I?
…Should have picked a better desired outcome.
So I guess the most important thing for Legacy players planning for this weekend is how good the deck [still] is / might be.
I think I would play it myself if I were battling in Cincinnati, but I'd be lying if I said I thought it was as good a choice as it was in Edison. For one thing, U/R Delver was only maybe the second-best Volcanic Island deck in Edison. Sneak and Show is also good; you are a dog to Sneak and Show; and Sneak and Show actually won the event!
There are multiple downriver implications to this:
Just as Punishing Jund influenced week over week metagame, Sneak and Show will likely do the same thing this week. People will copy the dominating decklist, and—again—U/R Delver is very bad against that deck.
But more than that, the metagame smarties—the kinds of jerks who play Submerge decks or figure out a big spell to go Over the Top when they see a Jund spike rather than themselves copying Jund—are going to forward-shift against combo now. I would be very surprised if we didn't see U/W Miracles and Counterbalance / Top as the foil to combo (opportunistically riding a perceived lapse by Liliana of the Veil decks).
U/R Delver is also bad against those folks. You only have cards that cost 1-2, you know, the classic prey of Counterbalance and especially Sensei's Divining Top. Being a dog to both the presumptive Deck to Beat and likely anti-Deck is bad mojo (for most).
So basically, you might want to wait a moment until Jund and RUG Delver, maybe BUG * with Thoughtseize, start looking good again. Because it is then that U/R Delver will once again look actually great.