At the StarCityGames.com Invitational in New Jersey, I played some very interesting matches on camera, and today I'm going to cover the one that is in my opinion the best of those.
I played this match against Chris VanMeter, a good friend of mine who I met while grinding the Open Series a couple years ago. Recently, he was nice enough to move to Roanoke in order to grace me with his presence on a daily basis. Normally, I put friendship first, so I hate beating my friends in tournaments. However, this time was different.
Over the last few months, I've been advocating Shardless BUG in Legacy, while players like Brian Braun-Duin and Todd Anderson have been championing Esper Deathblade. Strategically, Shardless BUG has the advantage in midrange blue mirrors as well against aggro decks and combo decks. In short, Shardless BUG is better in almost every conceivable way.
For whatever reason, people refused to believe me, so any time I got paired against Esper Deathblade I felt a strong need to prove them wrong.
The video and our decklists are below, along with my commentary on the match. My advice for easy viewing is to open the video in another browser and follow along.
0:01: My opener is:
This is a keep for a few reasons. The first and most important reason is because I'm on the play. If I were on the draw, CVM would have the opportunity to Abrupt Decay my Deathrite Shaman (if he even has it in his deck) or play Dark Confidant before I ever get anything going. As is, he can Swords to Plowshares my Deathrite or play a Deathrite of his own, but those are two spells that I'd happily Force of Will.
Those aren't normally things you throw away a Force of Will and Jace , the Mind Sculptor to counter, but in this case I'm land light, my game plan is resolving those Ancestral Visions, and in order for them to be effective I need some mana sources in play when I finally resolve them. His own Deathrite can also mess up my Deathrite activations (by activating his own in response, targeting the same land I do), so by committing to countering his Deathrite I'm also protecting my own.
With two Ancestrals suspended and him having no real way to interact with them, I know that I'm favored should I get to turn 6. I have Force of Will for his first play, I'm on the play, and my Deathrite Shaman is alive, at least for the short term.
In my mind, this hand is fantastic.
0:37: I snap Force the Deathrite Shaman, as I need my Deathrite Shaman for mana and desperately want to suspend my pair of Ancestral Visions on the next turn. If I spend my turn using Abrupt Decay, I wouldn't get a chance to suspend my Ancestrals in a timely manner.
1:09: That land is pretty nice. One of the few ways I can lose this game is by my Ancestrals going off while I'm still stuck on lands. I also need it in order to cast the Abrupt Decay (since CVM is a JERK and was sandbagging his fetchlands so I couldn't piggyback off them via Deathrite).
1:50: Liliana is obviously bad times since it eats one my mana sources, attacks my hand while I'm stuck on lands, and can take away a lot of the advantage I get from resolving two Ancestral Visions. I needed to find a board presence as soon as possible.
2:11: This is one of the most awkward plays I've seen CVM make. Obviously the odds of me having blue card plus Force of Will are incredibly low, but he's going to +1 Liliana that turn regardless. He might as well take away Force of Will as an out, but he wasn't thinking about it. Clearly there is some strategic value to using Jace's 0 ability before using Liliana's +1, but on this specific turn it's a mistake.
Facing down Jace and Liliana would have made me not confident about my position in the game, but after CVM's misstep I thought I was definitely going to win barring any Notion Thief shenanigans.
4:00: I definitely have to use Thoughtseize to nab his Batterskull and am going to suspend my Ancestral Vision with my extra mana. The real question is what to use Abrupt Decay on. Stoneforge Mystic is basically a blank, so the actual choice is between Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil.
With my full hand, I'm not scared of Liliana at all, although she can eat away at my hand and start chomping on whatever dudes I play. Dark Confidant has the best shot to get him back into the game, so I choose to kill that.
4:17: Another Dark Confidant off the top is pretty good for Chris considering that I chose to use my only removal spell on a copy the previous turn. Only Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Umezawa's Jitte would be worse for me.
4:38: I feel like I have to use Jace to buy myself a turn against the Dark Confidant. I can discard Hymn to Tourach to his Liliana of the Veil, Brainstorm with Jace, and then cast Shardless Agent and something else. That should be enough to stabilize me barring I fade one draw step from Chris.
4:52: But CVM's Hymn to Tourach off the top is what costs me the game.
5:31: The hits keep coming for CVM, with a Jace, the Mind Sculptor of his own to keep the pressure on and kill my Jace. Grr, stupid new legend rule . . .
7:08: CVM rightfully Brainstorms with Jace, looking for more action to bury me. Plus, he's probably going to need a couple extra cards to fight through my Ancestral coming off the next turn. Unsummoning his own Stoneforge Mystic is another line he could have taken, but that seems like it would set him back more than progress his board.
8:45: A pair of Baleful Strixes ain't bad, but it's not going to get his Jace off the battlefield any time soon. I'm basically dead barring a miracle. I continue to play out the game, but the miracle does not happen.
I sideboard like this:
Nihil Spellbomb is a fine way to counter Snapcaster Mage if you have the luxury of keeping it around and at the very least cuts down on their options if you're forced to use it early. It can also stop them from using Deathrite Shaman for a turn, which is good enough value to merit bringing them in. Note that in any of these scenarios I'm trying not to use the Spellbomb without drawing a card unless I absolutely have to.
For game 2, I only brought in a single Golgari Charm. I knew CVM had Dark Confidant, but I wasn't sure if he had Lingering Souls or not. Because of that, I had to hedge by not bringing in the second Liliana of the Veil. By game 3, I had both Charms in my deck and zero Lilianas.
As the commentators noted, I'm of the opinion that matchups like these are all about board presence, so I side out the majority of my discard if I can. If they play a turn 2 Dark Confidant and you play a turn 2 Hymn to Tourach, you will probably lose. If you draw a Hymn to Tourach on turn 9, you are probably going to lose.
There are situations where any card can have its use, of course, such as Thoughtseize against a freshly cast Stoneforge Mystic, but those situations are few and far between. In order to win, all of the discard must go!
The RUG Delver matchup is similarly about board presence, but everything happens much quicker so I like keeping in a couple Force of Wills. They will be the first on the board, so it's BUG's job to come back from behind. Typically, all that means is sticking a Tarmogoyf, so Force of Will does wonders there.
19:15: My opener is:
This hand isn't great, but I've got a Baleful Strix to keep Liliana busy, a Shardless Agent for value and an additional way to fight planeswalkers, a Brainstorm to cycle, and a Brainstorm to fix my hand later.
19:25: Since my mana is tight and I'm going to cycle Brainstorm anyway, I might as well do it in response to his Deathrite Shaman. It makes it look like I kept in some amount of Force of Wills, and while it will likely have little impact on the way CVM plays, it could potentially matter. That basically makes it strictly better play than wait until his end step.
21:01: I find my green mana and weigh my options. I could use Maelstrom Pulse to kill Liliana immediately, as I like all the cards in my hand (as should be the case post-board in any matchup), but I find a better line. Shardless Agent could cascade me into literally anything, and then I could probably use Maelstrom Pulse on his follow up play and then attack Liliana to death.
Disfigure is certainly one of the better cards I could have hit.
22:25: I don't like CVM playing creatures and then activating Liliana, as it gives me more information before I choose what to discard. It's minimal but strategically wrong.
Brainstorm hits the graveyard on my side of the table because again my mana is mostly tied up. CVM discarding Snapcaster Mage over Lingering Souls is definitely something I agree with. The two fliers from one half of Lingering Souls are far more valuable than the potential for Snapcaster plus Brainstorm, especially when CVM doesn't even have access to double blue.
22:48: These are the situations that make or break the matchup. Jace's Unsummon ability clears Dark Confidant out of the way, giving CVM the choice of losing his Liliana to my Shardless Agent or chump blocking with Deathrite Shaman. CVM wisely chooses to keep his Deathrite Shaman around.
23:23: Without access to five mana, CVM can only add two 1/1 fliers to the table and plink my Jace for one.
23:51: Everything has gone well so far, especially considering I was able to untap with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. However, the next two turns are pivotal in deciding how the rest of the game plays out. I don't typically put my head in my hands, but I was wracking my brain trying to not screw up that turn.
24:15: I decide the best course of action is to deny him resources by fate sealing him, putting a land on the bottom, and then using Wasteland and Maelstrom Pulse to put him back down to only Scrubland for colored mana.
If he flashbacks Lingering Souls and tries to attack Jace that way, I have a Golgari Charm at the ready. Things could go horribly wrong if he Thoughtseizes me, but I have to take that risk in order to get maximum value from it.
25:32: I'm not sure I agree with CVM's choice to play Dark Confidant here, although I do see his rationale. I couldn't afford to Unsummon Dark Confidant unless I wanted to lose my Jace, which potentially allows him to get back in the game. If I choose to fate seal with Jace, there is basically no way it's going to die for another turn at least, especially considering I could eat his Lingering Souls with my Deathrite Shaman.
25:50: I know I'm casting Golgari Charm, but I also know he won't block Shardless Agent with Dark Confidant, which allows me to sneak in a free point of damage by not casting Golgari Charm main phase.
26:04: Fate sealing CVM would do very little, as he has an uncracked fetchland in play. By using it on myself, I'm trying to find anything remotely resembling gas. Fate sealing myself gives me a marginal advantage, whereas fate sealing CVM would give me basically nothing. If the game goes longer, I could see leaving something on top to get him to crack his fetchland, and then I might try to soft lock him with Jace.
26:06: CVM is in a similar situation to me last turn and opts to use his Brainstorm at end of turn because he's choked on mana and very far behind. He could have made a slightly better play by Brainstorming in response to the Golgari Charm, but again it affects very little.
27:48: You can see CVM pondering over whether or not to cast the Jitte, but I think his best chance of winning is me being careless, letting him untap with Dark Confidant, and then potentially getting some sort of headway with his Umezawa's Jitte. It's not likely to work, but there is over 27 minutes left in the round so we have enough time for him to play it out.
He could also use his Wasteland to prevent a hit from Creeping Tar Pit, but unless he draws a land followed by something like Lingering Souls, there is basically no way he can win the game if he does that.
For the rest of the game, Jace dominates the board with his Unsummon ability, which is something you have to plan ahead for by using his +2 ability.
33:04: CVM starts with a mulligan, while my opener is:
I choose to suspend Ancestral Vision because CVM didn't play anything so I have a moment of reprieve. Additionally, my turn 1 Deathrite Shaman is going to accomplish very little since I have nothing to ramp into, so there's no reason not to suspend my Ancestral the first chance I get.
35:10: CVM Hymns me, which is mildly annoying, but I've got an Ancestral ticking away and he has no board presence. I'm more than happy to play through some discard when I'm about to draw three cards.
The only awkward part is the fact that Hymn makes me discard Bayou, my only other land.
35:35: After a land, Brainstorm is probably my next best draw. Ideally, I want to Brainstorm into two lands so that I can play Jace on the following turn. If my Brainstorm doesn't find any lands, I will likely lose the game, so the other option is waiting.
Even if I miss, I have some one-drops to play so I won't be completely out of it. If I hit, I'm in a strong position to win the game. If I wait and he plays something like Dark Confidant or Liliana of the Veil, I'm suddenly in very big trouble, especially if he has any sort of follow up.
I decide to go for it.
36:10: Deciding what to put back is interesting because I have more discard to consider as well as what I want to cascade into on the following turn should my play be Shardless Agent. Tarmogoyf is a "better" card, but Baleful Strix is better against planeswalkers and can help me get out of my slight mana screw, so I choose you, Robot Owl.
36:50: If I had a fourth land, I'd probably keep that in my hand and put the Jace on top, so I don't think CVM has any real reason to fear the Jace for a couple more turns. However, his hand is lacking action, so he'll likely lose to that Jace eventually.
37:55: I like the Snapcaster Mage plus Hymn to Tourach here. It's unlikely he'll get another chance to use his Snapcaster due to my Deathrite Shaman and Nihil Spellbomb, plus it allows him to potentially hit any removal for Stoneforge Mystic (and its equipment) that I draw.
39:40: "Ancestral myself, Pulse your Batterskull" is probably one of the best feelings of all time.
40:35: Matthias is correct. Once you get ahead on board, it's pretty difficult for you to lose that presence.
43:05: CVM decided to wait on his Brainstorm, which I think was a good idea. He needed more than one good thing to get him out of his predicament, so going a card deeper was probably wise. After all, he wasn't under too much pressure until Jace came down. With Jace in play, now he has to pull the trigger, but he Brainstorm locks himself.
I was Hymned, Thoughtseized, and then Hymned again, and at no point did I ever really look like I was in trouble (aside from nearly missing my second land drop, heh). It just goes to show that discard is all well and good but does little to nothing if you don't have any pressure to go with it.
As always, I hope you enjoyed my recap. For the most part, I like how I played this match. The only thing I really dislike is how the strings of my hoodie weren't even.
@G3RRYT on Twitter