Let's back up a little first. So it's Thursday, July 4th, and in between eating awesome cookout food and drinking a little, I'm trying to get ahold of my friend who I was supposed to go to a PTQ in Montreal with that upcoming weekend, and boy am I kind of glad that I didn't. I couldn't get in touch with him but like the grinder I am, I just couldn't rest a weekend. I decided to spend the weekend at the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Worcester and try my hand at not just Standard like I normally do, but I planned to battle some Legacy as well.
I usually don't play Legacy because it's too expensive for me to acquire all the cards, but if I had the money I definitely would. Thankfully, I have friends that trust me enough to lend me a whole Legacy deck so that I am able to play in these events. Legacy, in my eyes, is literally two sides of a coin:
How unfair can I be?
Can I be fair and still win?
I chose to be fair, because I really have a fondness of blue cards, specifically the Islands that cast them. In figuring out what I wanted to play, I told my friend Chris Calderon that I wanted to play a Force of Will deck. The first question he asked me about the route I wanted to take for the maindeck was “Do you want to beat up the fair decks or the unfair deck?” which pretty much confirmed what little I knew about the current Legacy format. After testing for a solid two orthree hours, we settled on the list I took to Worcester.
I talked with another friend of mine, Jeremy Tibbetts, who I usually go to whenever I want to talk about Legacy, and he told me that he didn't like the Enlightened Tutor plan I had. I tried to argue my points, but we basically just got into a stalemate of “it's not bad, but I don't think it's where you want to be.” Well I was happy I went with the plan I did, because I have never been happier than when casting Moat and hearing my opponent say “Do I even have an out to this in my 75?”
The one thing we did agree on though is that Celestial Purge is probably an MVP card and very underrated in Legacy. I should have put Celestial Purge on my Top 8 profile answer for “What's the most underplayed card in Legacy?” instead of being a troll and writing Apocalypse Chime, but it was my first StarCityGames.com Open Series Top 8 and I had to one-up Bryant Cook's answer of Didgeridoo. (Hey, my answer kills his answer.) Celestial Purge eliminates so many important cards that can just blow this deck away if you can't find an answer for them, like Sulfric Vortex, Liliana of the Veil, Deathrite Shaman, Griselbrand, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Bloodbraid Elf, Pyrostatic Pillar, and many others.
Izzet Charm was another new-to-Legacy MVP card for me. Every time I needed that pesky Deathrite Shaman gone or didn't have the Spell Pierce but still needed to counter Jace, the Mind Sculptor, this card was there and it didn't let me down once.
Spell Snare is another card that I always felt was strong and would do a good job of fighting against the fair decks as well as the unfair decks. Chris and Jeremy didn't fully agree with me, but I wasn't backing down and I wanted this card in my deck for the tournament as something in my gut was telling me it'd be good.
I also had theory-crafted a plan to beat all the Esper Deathblade decks - Moat and Humility. Unfortunately, I didn't play a single Esper Deathblade deck during the weekend, but I did play against Merfolk once as well as Shardless BUG twice. Having Moat and Humility makes those decks go at a slower pace, so that you can eventually retake control of the game and walk away hopefully unscathed. My theory worked out and it carried me into the semifinals.
Moving forward to the actual day of the event, I woke up not feeling well and then in round one I took a loss to UB Tezzeret. In game three, my opponent resolved a turn-two Jace, the Mind Sculptor and then a turn-three Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Try as I did, there was nothing I could do against that ridiculous start - especially since being the rookie I was at Legacy, I didn't think to bring in Pyroblast. It seemed like the worst possible start for the day, and I wasn't happy, but kept my head in the game.
After that loss, I regrouped and discussed Legacy in general with some friends, trying to figure out if I could get any more insight onto the format that I was trying to prove my worth at today. My friend Jeremy was also on almost the exact same 75, except that he didn't have the Enlightened Tutor package I was running, and we started discussing matchups in between rounds so I could quickly try to wrap my head around the vastness and diversity of Legacy.
In round three, my gut feeling proved to be correct about Spell Snare. I was playing against Storm, and my opponent Duressed me early. I chose to Force of Will this to keep my hand, and Spell Snare, a secret. On turn three, I played Stoneforge Mystic and grabbed a Batterskull to add to my hand of Spell Snare, Snapcaster Mage, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. On his turn three, my opponent started his turn with some counting in his head and then casting Cabal Therapy naming Force of Will. He looked at my hand, missing his target, and realizing I had a more efficient answer in the form of Spell Snare. He was set to combo off that turn, even with enough mana to play around Spell Pierce, but he could not answer the Spell Snare lurking in my hand that would be able to counter his Infernal Tutor.
That round, my friend Jeremy took his first loss to Bryant Cook playing Storm. We talked about it and I remember explaining how happy I was that I had chosen to stay with my Spell Snare plan, even if it was only for that moment.
My next memorable moment of the day came in the final round of Swiss, when I was in sixth place and pretty sure I was a lock if I just drew in. I got paired up against the fifth seed, Brian Knopp, and after some deep thinking I agreed to just draw and pray that my breakers held up, after a quick attempt at math suggested they should be enough to get me there. After twenty minutes in the round, I was worried that if the other x-1-1 won, it might push me miserably into ninth place. I started to panic and just walked around talking with friends to see if anybody else knew for sure if I would have my spot in the Top 8 or not. I finally settled my brain, recollected myself, and just talked with my friends as the round passed and my fate would be decided with or without me.
When the head judge started announcing Top 8, I was amazed to hear my name not in eighth place, but in seventh! This meant I had been safer than I gave myself credit for, and that I dodged having to play Bryant Cook and his Storm menace in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, because I was right on the math, Chris VanMeter did not make it, and ended up getting the ninth place showing I had dreaded for over an hour. That really sucked, because it would have been nice to see him make it into the Top 8 as well.
The quarterfinals match was a whole moment all in its own. I quickly got blown out of the first game, over-valuing a turn-one Deathrite Shaman when I actually could defend against it, stall until turn four, and cast Supreme Verdict to lock up the game. Instead I Forced the Deathrite Shaman and my opponent slammed multiple Tarmogoyfs and rushed me out of the game. Game two went back-and-forth for a bit, but I locked it up when I resolved a Moat with Elspeth, Knight-Errant in play.
The third game was probably the most intense Magic I have played in quite some time, even if sometimes it just looked like I didn't know what was going on. I quickly found myself staring at life totals, 23-1 in my opponent's favor. I played to my outs the best I could and thankfully was able to draw some powerful cards between Jace, the Mind Sculptor and actual Brainstorms, somehow turned the game back around in my favor, and advanced to the semifinals.
After playing nine rounds of Magic, there were a lot of things I realized were just wrong with the deck. I was just too vulnerable to Wasteland all day and the Crucible of Worlds just didn't perform to the extent that I had thought it would. Jokingly after the tournament, I asked Chris if there was any way we could make this deck more unfair, and he replied “Not really.”
I may end up taking this to the StarCityGames.com Invitational in New Jersey because I have some comfort with it now, and with bit of a better understanding of Legacy I can re-tool it. Then again, there is a whole new rules change coming up that might affect how I test for said Invitational. If I were to play this deck again, the new list would look a little something like this.
We have the addition of Grim Lavamancer as the primary change. This guy is insane if it stays on the table, as he kill almost everything in the format. Between Deathrite Shaman, Delver of Secrets, Dark Confidant, any of the popular hate bears, the vast majority of creatures in Combo Elves, and the ability to control the loyalty count of planeswalkers, I expect Grim Lavamancer to play a huge role moving forward. He gets everything but the Goyfs, and the rest of the deck can cover those well enough.
I finally cut Crucible of Worlds from the deck. As unfair of a card as it is, it's just not the right flavor of unfair for the current Legacy format, where you can draw your entire deck... or 'just' get Griselbrand into play on turn two. It's also not very well-positioned; there are too many cards that kill it when you need to rely on it, with Abrupt Decay being the main offender. This change forced us to adjust our manabase so that we don't get blown out by opposing Wastelands so often, as well as cutting our Wastelands from the deck completely so we can reliably cast our spells. Looking back on the tournament, I never really wanted to activate Wasteland unless it hit a Creeping Tar Pit or another manland.
Spell Snare might have to go because it was really only a gut feeling, and often times I boarded it out of my deck. I don't know what would replace it yet, but another Spell Pierce, Grim Lavamancer, or even a pair of Path to Exiles are currently under consideration. There aren't a lot of basic land being played in Legacy right now, and since we're not playing with Daze, there's a good chance that Path to Exile might just be where we want to be as having six Plow effects is really consistent.
A few other cards that I want to play in this deck are Stifle and Geist of Saint Traft, but unfortunately this deck just isn't quite the shell to optimize those cards. Ajani Vengeant and Ral Zarek were cards that were brought up that stabilize the board and are difficult to answer. Ral was the more interesting of the two, because when I don't have the time to establish him he can always just pitch to Force of Will.
I was very happy to play competitive Legacy again, and was glad I did so well at my return to the format. There was definitely sequencing issues where I dropped the ball because my mind was thinking too narrowly or about too many options. Knowing when it's right to sacrifice a fetchland is probably still the hardest thing for me to do, and I still don't really know the right answer to that question, but the challenge is part of what makes Legacy so much fun!
But now it's time for me to start testing hard for the Invitational - where the big bucks are made. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the Legacy format when you can have Jace vs Jace battles, Geist vs Geist battles, and even Griselbrand vs Griselbrand battles. See ya there!
- Jared Boettcher