"If your dreams don't scare you, they are not big enough."
I strongly believe that Elves is one of the top decks in Legacy. Unless people start not only throwing a lot more hate at it but also understand how the deck actually plays out post-board, Elves will definitely continue to put up numbers in the hands of competent players. But how did I arrive at this conclusion? My personal Eureka moment struck me when I was playing at the Bazaar of Moxen Annecy in May. Especially during day 1, the top tables were infested with Elves players tearing up the metagame. Back then I was on Shardless BUG and got my butt handed to me by some very good Elves players that were easily able to outplay me over the course of the game. The deck just felt invincible to me, and I remember how our resident Elvish Champion Lukas Maurer managed to take what is now Legacy's premier tribal deck all the way to the finals of Grand Prix Ghent in 2012.
After Annecy, I knew exactly which deck I wanted to focus on for future testing. Already having given it several successful tries in paper Magic, I decided to also start testing on Magic Online. After getting comfortable with the deck and 4-0ing several Daily Events, I started streaming my progress on http://twitch.tv/itsJulian. Playing in front of an educated audience helped a lot in playing a much tighter game and discovering potential loopholes in my sideboarding strategy.
The more I kept playing and winning, the more my feeling grew that Elves might still be flying under the radar for a lot of people. The deck just felt like the strongest 75 cards I had ever registered to any given tournament since the banning of Mental Misstep (and the sad departure of NO RUG it brought about). Yet many people failed to understand that this once niche and geeky tribal deck had risen to the very top of the format and was putting up very noticeable results! Following Lukas' great run with it at GP Ghent in 2012, LSV and Matt Nass had once again showcased the power of the deck to a broad audience at GP Denver in January. But with Deathblade being the talk of the town for almost the entire summer, Elves never got the amount of attention I felt it deserved.
Taking a look at the top-tier decks of Legacy on October 29th, two days before my departure, tcdecks.net confirmed my sentiment, as Elves had been doing incredibly well all month with very little acknowledgement by both players and writers.
It's not like I bothered though. When I arrived in Paris, I knew that I was on one of the very best decks I could have taken to the tournament.
You might already know, but Elves! is a highly complex deck of a very technical nature. Since I want to focus on specific strategies as well as my run through the Bazaar of Moxen itself, anyone looking for a detailed primer should be best advised to check out the excellent writing of Daniel Nguyen (danyul) over at The Source, who recently made Top 8 of the SCG Legacy Open in Seattle with it.
In the following I will instead put more focus on pointing out my personal evaluation of certain cards as well as the modifications I made to the deck. Despite running a core list of about 55 cards, Elves can be highly customized according to your preferences because of the sheer number of tutoring it employs.
In case you've always been wondering why this deck is called Elves, here you go. The four-ofs are pretty much set in stone, while the choice of the complimentary mana-producing Elves is still highly debated even among veterans of the deck. I did some testing with Lemnear's list of four Birchlore Rangers, which emphasis strong turn 2 Glimpse chains but soon went back to two Llanowar Elves as I'm just that much more of a Natural Order kind of guy. With Llanowar Elves, Quirion Ranger, and Cradle, you can cast Natural Order as soon as turn 2, which is especially important in post-board games as well as against Storm. In the end, though, I settled on cutting one Llanowar Elves and adding Birchlore Rangers as a concession to the maindeck Ruric Thar as well as the variety of off-color spells in the sideboard. By including the Birchlore Rangers, your Green Sun's Zenith suddenly becomes the worst fetch land ever printed, which will sometimes be just what you need in order to cast that game-winning spell that's been sitting in your hand. On top of that, machine-gunning people with Deathrite Shaman becomes much easier once Birchlore Rangers hits the table.
Other than that I really have to give credit where credit is due—in this case Quirion Ranger. This card has easily been the MVP of the entire tournament for me, untapping Deathrite Shaman and Dryad Arbor left and right and adding so much to the consistency of your mana (and thus your deck) in general. It singlehandedly won me several games, especially against Storm, where every additional mana you can generate matters a lot. I sometimes jokingly refer to it as the green Dark Ritual, when in fact it sometimes produces up to five additional mana when you play it:
1) It's another Elf that taps for Heritage Druid.
2) It untaps a fellow Elf with its ability.
3) When casting it, it untaps Nettle Sentinel.
4) It's plus-one mana off Gaea's Cradle.
5) When you're out of lands, it allows you to bounce and replay that land for +1 mana.
While some of the above points also apply for the other Elves as well, only Quirion Ranger will provide you with the whole package. That single card is so incredibly overpowered in this deck and will be very willing to even work the extra shift with Dryad Arbor, keeping Umezawa's Jitte at bay. Hands down, Quirion Ranger, you're the (wo?)man!
Glimpse of Nature is good, we all get it. But what's better than one engine? Two engines! Seriously, people often underestimate what these two guys, sometimes cutely referred to as the "Best-Friends Team", are capable of. Easily assembled by Green Sun's Zenith, having one of each in play equals drawing three cards a turn while also continuously Maze of Ithing one of your opponent's creatures. Note that while I moved up the tables, the amount of resources people were willing to dedicate to stopping this combo rose significantly. Unless you're playing combo yourself, you really shouldn't be afraid to burn your Force of Will on Wirewood Symbiote if you have no other way of stopping he Visionary and his parasitic friend on their quest to draw all the cards!
These last three (or, in my case, four) slots are where you will see some customization. Ever since two Behemoths has been established as the best configuration, adding Viridian Shaman is what I consider my chicken choice for big tournaments. You never know what you are going to face, and having maindeck outs to otherwise horrible matchups (Stax, anyone?) is something I'd be willing to trade off for a little less overall consistency. Also, while Affinity is already a pretty good matchup, being able to bury them und a never-ending stream of Vindicates off Wirewood Symbiote is usually the last nail in their steely coffin. Bonus consideration for the fancy people out there: Viridian Corrupter. But keep in mind that this one's got especially bad synergy with Craterhoof Behemoth.
Moving Ruric Thar to the maindeck was a "last-minute" swap I decided on the weekend before the tournament. My reasoning is that Storm has practically zero outs to Ruric in game 1 and thus including it increases your win percentage in game 1 from probably less than 20% to about 40%. As a matter of fact, I won all my game 1s against Storm this weekend. Of course the power of Ruric comes at a price: running the dreaded 61st card a lot of people shy away from often for no apparent reason other than pure ideology. Note that I will respect your opinion once you've done the math and come to the conclusion that cutting something from the deck to go down to 60 is fine; however, postulating 60 cards just for the sake of it, is pretty much useless. I won't get into the general discussion of the merits of 60 vs. 61 cards here, but keep in mind that the upsides will most likely outweigh the opportunity costs if the card you add meets two conditions:
1) It can be tutored up rather easily and
2) It has high impact on an important matchup you plan to improve.
Bonus: Running 61 cards will earn you the respect of the entire Russian Legacy community. Don't tell me you wouldn't like that.
This is where the Magic happens. While Glimpse of Nature and Natural Order are the two superstars of this deck, Green Sun's Zenith earns its merits as the glue that holds most of this deck together. The beautiful thing about it is that it doubles as acceleration AND business, and you will often find yourself GSZ for Craterhoof Behemoth to close out games. Even GSZ for Progenitus is nothing unheard of. However, for me the by far most tutored up card has always been Quirion Ranger as it provides a lot of explosiveness on turns 2 and 3.
Glimpse of Nature aka the-card-I-seem-to-play-differently-from-most-other-Elves-players. Don't get me wrong; Glimpse is an awesome spell and has won me a countless number of games. However, I have absolutely no problem cycling it on my second turn if I'm running short on mana and need to draw into a way to deploy my hand much faster. I hardly ever wait on my Glimpses and will use them pretty aggressively. Of course there will be exceptions like the mirror match or Storm, where you are just forced to wait if you know you won't be able to close out the game with Glimpse as passing the turn with a non-lethal amount of Elves doesn't really get you anywhere here.
Natural Order, on the other hand, I admire. This card accounts for the vast majority of turn 3 kills and the setup couldn't be easier! Here's some numbers for you to see how easy it actually is to Hoof people.
2 creatures = 10 damage
3 creatures = 16 damage
4 creatures = 24 damage
5 creatures = 34 damage
Note that this is calculated with every creature being 1/1 (and the Behemoth at initially 5/5 of course). Also note that for the kill with four creatures, only three of them don't need to be affected by summoning sickness as the fourth one will be sacked into the Natural Order and be replaced by the hasty Hoof. With a Gaea's Cradle in play, what you will usually do is crack a fetch land for Dryad Arbor (plus-one mana on Cradle) and sacrifice it right into the Natural Order.
Remember that with any kind of acceleration on turn 1, a Quirion Ranger and a Gaea's Cradle you will be able to cast this bad boy as soon as turn 2. While usually not enough for Craterhoof Behemoth, this is something that will come up often after sideboarding, when you want to go for Progenitus.
We never really compared numbers on this on The Source, but in my testing for every game I win on the back of Glimpse chains, I win about three with Natural Order. The only reason for the 4/3 split in the maindeck is that Glimpse clogging up your hand is much less problematic than being stuck with two or three Natural Orders, which are worse in multiples and can't be cycled.
The Mana Base
Contrary to popular believe, this deck's mana base is far from stable. While Merfolk still wins the award for the worst (essentially) monocolored mana base for the fifth year running, Elves has entered the competition as a strong runner-up. So don't be fooled by the solid look of twenty lands, as there's only fourteen of them that will produce mana on your very first turn. Despite this rather intimidatingly low number, Elves will be perfectly fine operating on just a single Forest for a solid amount of time. Yes, you will mulligan every once in a while because your hand contains no initial mana source, but that's the price you pay for playing an otherwise incredibly powerful deck. Note that twenty lands is already a little bit on the high end for most Elves builds these days but also stems from the inclusion of the second Dryad Arbor. Whatever configuration you go for in the end, just make sure you don't ever touch that fourteen actual lands, ok?
The abundance of fetch lands in this deck is of course meant to fuel your Deathrite Shaman. While other decks can get away with a count of less than nine, the interaction between Quirion Ranger allows you to burn through your fetch lands at lightning speed. In most games your opponent will gladly help you out on this, but you really want to make sure not to starve your Deathrite Shaman. I strongly advise going below nine fetch lands in this deck!
Ever since the most recent changes to the legendary rule, I consider four Cradles a given for every Elves list. People sometimes point towards how awful it is as your only mana source in your opening hand. What these people also often neglect though is that the common "fix" of playing three Cradles + one Crop Rotation does nothing to solve this problem. If you don't run four Gaea's Cradle, you're doing it wrong, trust me. Regarding the singleton Taiga, I decided to include it over the tenth fetch land after many rounds of testing. The situation of having Ruric Thar in hand with no means of casting it came up at times and needed to be fixed in order to fully capitalize on the maindeck inclusion of our beloved combo-breaker. Another not unimportant point is having an additional actual land instead of a fetch land when facing decks with heavy creature removal and Wastelands as it helps in getting to Natural Order mana. Same goes for two Forests which you should always fetch for when facing an unknown opponent.
Another choice I want to focus on here is the second Dryad Arbor. If you're a dedicated Elves player, chances are you already recognized the power of this rather subtle choice. Yes, you don't always want to naturally draw it, but the many uses of this card heavily outweigh the opportunity costs. Here are some neat tricks you may or may not already know about:
1) Acceleration off GSZ on turn 1— ok, that was easy.
2) Produces essentially plus-two mana with Gaea's Cradle at the cost of a land drop.
3) When facing an opponent who's dripping off removal spells, you can still setup a Natural Order for Progenitus by cracking a fetch land for Dryad Arbor and immediately cast your green Tinker. They don't get priority, and you even get to tap Gaea's Cradle for one more mana in between.
4) Can be tutored up with fetch lands as a surprise blocker and protects Progenitus against Liliana.
5) Acts as a pseudo Maze of Ith in combination with Quirion Ranger, denying Umezawa's Jitte or Batterskull.
6) Keep in mind that in rare situations instead of saving it from Terminus with Quirion Ranger you can instead just crack a fetch land for it and your opponent's end of turn. This comes in handy when you already had your land drop but still want to attack on the very next turn.
The sideboard is easily the part of the deck I've put the most work into ever since I started playing it right after Bazaar of Moxen Annecy in May. When building an Elves sideboard you usually have to make a decision between including graveyard or Storm hate, and I settled with the later. My read on the format was that Dredge and Reanimator where on an all-time low these days, and especially against the black Zombie army you can sometimes just be faster than them anyway.
I used to play four Cabal Therapys, but once I saw Reid Duke sport a list with Thoughtseize, I was quickly hooked up. In a vacuum, Therapy is much better than Duress but will also sometimes put you to difficult decisions than cannot always be solved with skill or any read you might have on your opponent. Especially against high-variance decks like Oops, All Spells!, you will have to make the decision whether to name Balustrade Spy or Undercity Informer . . . or Dark Ritual? You see, sometimes you can make the right call on Therapy (which is Balustrade Spy because I'm also running Needles) and still lose. Thoughtseize, while generally a little bit weaker, helps you out by often buying at least one guaranteed turn . . . which is often just enough to land that sweet Ruric Thar to rain onto your opponent's parade. I'm still not sure whether I want the 3/2 or 2/3 split here though, so feel free to make your own judgement. Another very important bonus for Thoughtseize is having another card for the Miracles matchup.
The Mindbreak Traps could easily become Thorn of Amethyst if you feel confident enough to not play against any kind of fast combo (Spanish Inquisition, Belcher, to a certain degree even TES). They are definitely not there to beat ANT. Still, I have to disagree when people argue that they don't do anything against Storm because they will do exactly what they are supposed to do in that matchup: buy you a turn to hopefully Natural Order up your Ruric Thar. If you're not running Ruric (hint: don't!), exchange those Traps for whatever you feel comfortable with, but please make sure to never complain about your opponent blowing you out while you were just waiting to untap into killing him.
The card I received the most questions on was Pithing Needle. As you might know, Magic Online is infested with Miracles and thus provides a pretty good testing environment for that matchup. As you might also know, Miracles just smashes Elves like no tomorrow—the main reason being Terminus. While Counterbalance will often just be a nuisance, Terminus is what you fear and will make you walk the thin line between overcommitting to the board and falling behind really quickly. Even with perfect play, that line will soon completely vanish under your feet, and you will just lose. Since losing is pretty bad, I decided to put most of my testing into improving that matchup. For quite a while I ran a configuration of two Chokes and two Pithing Needles, but eventually got rid of the Chokes in favor of more discard and one more Abrupt Decay. Once I realized that Sensei's Divining Top is the actual card to fight here, this decision came quite naturally, and I never looked back.
On top of that Needle also significantly improves your matchup against Sneak and Show and other random combo decks like Imperial Painter and also shuts down Umezawa's Jitte, Grim Lavamancer, or Goblin Charbelcher. People still question its inclusion a lot, but I would never leave the house without at least two copies of it.
Other than Pithing Needle, a lot of people have also asked me why I didn't want any white in my deck. I had Gaddock Teeg and Harmonic Sliver in the deck for most of my testing. In the end, I feel both aren't worth moving into a different color. There are not many artifacts or enchantments that cost greater than three that you really need to kill that are seeing enough play in Legacy to worry about. Yes, Sliver can be tutored via GSZ, but I'd much rather have the third Abrupt Decay here as it's got way more applications over the entire metagame. Gaddock Teeg, on the other hand, is actually a card that goes against my very strategy in most matchups I'd want him in. The big problem with this guy is that it prevents you from getting Ruric Thar onto the table anytime soon while doing actually nothing to disrupt your opponent for most of the game.
A lot of you guys have been messaging me with questions about how to sideboard with this deck. Because you're playing almost zero reactive cards in the maindeck, sideboarding with Elves doesn't come as naturally as with most other decks. So let's just get right into medias res here.
Disclaimer: Don't blindly mirror my sideboarding if it doesn't suit the strategic approach you are following for any of these matchups. Mindless sideboarding without accounting for what you are actually seeing out of your opponent while neglecting the strategic thoughts behind the exchanges you make is a sure way to just lose. Losing sucks.
+3 Abrupt Decay
-3 Heritage Druid
+2 Pithing Needle
-2 Glimpse of Nature
-2 Nettle Sentinel
+1 Natural Order
-1 Viridian Shaman
-1 Craterhoof Behemoth
(+1 Scavenging Ooze if they have Snapcaster)
(-1 Quirion Ranger)
"Ach! Hans, run! It's a miracle!"
This is Shiva, destroyer of worlds. Our matchup against Shiva is awesomely bad, and I advise staying away from it at all costs. Seriously, game 1 against Miracles is a really tough one. I've spent dozens of test games trying to find a practical way of actually grinding out Miracles in game 1—yes, I'm that crazy. In the end, the best advice I can give you is trying to close out the game as soon as possible. Because you don't have the tools to efficiently fight neither Counterbalance nor Top, your best bet is to put them on the spot for having Terminus as soon as possible. Remember, that when bad odds are still the best odds you can get, it's the absolutely right play to go for it. Way to often do I see people complaining about somebody making a perceivably "bad play"—like playing right into Terminus—without actually understanding that odds of winning the game on the spot at 30% is still better than your regular game 1 percentage against Miracles of about 20% if you try to grind it out.
After sideboarding things become way easier. Which doesn't mean that you're not still the underdog. I like siding in the Progenitus package, as unlike your other Natural Order options Progenitus can only be handled by Terminus, which means that your other NOs will stay live. I also used to side out both Craterhoofs here, but once you manage to shut down Sensei's Divining Top with Pithing Needle, the Hoof kill actually becomes semi-viable again and requires them to have a Brainstorm into Terminus to stop it. The rest should be pretty much self-explanatory. If Thoughtseize them on turn 1, always aim for their Sensei's Divining Top unless there's an incredibly convining other card you want to take.
In case you're running Gaddock Teeg, here's a trick for you; if your opponent Swords to Plowshares your Gaddock Teeg during a crucial moment (e.g. a lethal attack), you can Abrupt Decay his Top in response. This leaves him with the decision to either save his Top and be unable to cast his Terminus or lose his Top and risk losing the game right away.
RUG & BUG Delver
+3 Abrupt Decay
-2 Heritage Druid
-2 Nettle Sentinel
+1 Natural Order
-1 Viridian Shaman
-1 Craterhoof Behemoth
+1 Scavenging Ooze
-1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
-1 Glimpse of Nature
Your matchup against the supreme tempo decks of the format is really tricky. Especially against RUG, Natural Order can sometimes become more of a liability, so consider siding out the Progenitus package on the draw (in which case you might also not use the Thoughtseizes). Against BUG Delver, I'd always want to keep in the Natural Orders as their clock is just a tad slower than RUG's because their tempo suffers from a slightly higher mana curve.
Strategically, you will often find your first three or four creatures being instantly removed, so plan ahead and try to lose some Symbiotes instead of actually good ones. Especially Deathrite Shaman is of highest importance since it helps a as it basically shuts down almost all of their win conditions over time. Thoughtseizes should usually go for either their hard countermagic (in order to resolve Natural Order) or big blowout spells like Toxic Deluge. Note that Golgari Charm can be very annoying but will usually not stop you from Natural Ordering, so don't give it too much credit. Abrupt Decays are there to buy you time against Delver or remove problematic permanents like Grafdigger's Cage (very annoying) or Engineered Plague (less annoying). Generally speaking, I don't really mind Engineered Plague all that much as you can still easily setup Natural Order.
While most BUG variants are rather easy and should favour Elves, RUG is one of the harder matchups you are going to face, especially on the draw. Feel free to derivate from my sideboard strategy if you think you found an approach that works better. Just make sure to let me know about it!
Jund is definitely one of your better matchups. They might have access to all the answers (Punishing Fire, Engineered Plague, Liliana of the Veil, what-have-you) but often run into problems actually putting up an offense while disrupting you. Their best bet is casting Hymn to Tourach or Thoughtseize after your second turn in order to hit an otherwise devastating Natural Order. After sideboarding, expect Engineered Plagues. If they also sideboard Grafdigger's Cage, you want to go up to three Abrupt Decays.
Sideboarding Abrupt Decay is exactly what that pesky water mages want, so you should refrain from it. Spending two mana early on will get you nowhere against Merfolk as chances are it won't even change their clock. Instead, you should side in Pithing Needles and name either Aether Vial or Mutavault, most likely the former one. This will usually slow down their clock by two turns and is an investment I'd gladly make early on.
Death and Taxes
The bad news: they will usually have access to Aven Mindcensor aka Grafdigger's Cage on a stick. This is basically all that happens in this matchup. Try to go for a Natural Order as soon as possible, preferably when they are unable to flash in the annoying Bird Wizards from Future Sight. Bonus points if you've even got the Abrupt Decay ready. You can try to find out whether they have the Mindcensor by using your GSZ aggressively in situations where they could actually have it. Other than that Pithing Needle is there to either stop Aether Vial, Umezawa's Jitte or Mother of Runes protecting the Mindcensor; you might also want to just name Wasteland / Rishadan Port if your mana is vulnerable.
Shardless BUG is actually one of your best (blue) matchups and one of the reasons why I believe that Elves is currently excellently positioned in the metagame. Pre-board the only cards you really care about are Force of Will and Discard. Fortunately, a lot of lists have lately been cutting back here, especially on countermagic. But even if they manage to disrupt your early on, their biggest problem comes in the form of an agonizingly slow clock. Tarmogoyf has issues actually connecting through Quirion Ranger and Wirewod Symbiote while the rest of their creatures is just way too slow— or just die to Viridian Shaman.
After sideboarding your Natural Orders become even better, as they will often lack an actual out to Progenitus. A very common line of play is them tapping out on turn 2 for Engineered Plague with you untapping into Natural Order. Watch out for Grafdigger's Cage (and to a lesser extend Envelope) though and side in more Abrupt Decays should they have it (as they should).
This matchup pretty much plays out the same way as other tempo decks. Side in the Needles as an additional way of dealing with Grim Lavamancer and Umezawa's Jitte. Unless they are running the in my opinion subpar Meddling Mage instead of Ethersworn Canonist, side out two Glimpse of Natures. Your main plan in this matchup is Natural Order for Progenitus. With the current switch from Geist of Saint Traft to True-Name Nemesis, don't be afraid of siding out Nettle Sentinels; if they play Elecktrickery, though, I'd rather cut something else.
+3 Cabal Therapy
-1 Craterhoof Behemoth
-3 Elvish Visionary
+2 Mindbreak Trap
-3 Wirewood Symbiote
+1 Natural Order
-1 Nettle Sentinel
(+1 Scavenging Ooze against ANT, not TES)
(-1 Glimpse of Nature)
There's not a whole lot I can tell you about this matchup. Name Lion Eye's Diamond with blind Cabal Therapys in order to stop (most) turn 1 kills and then flashback on your next turn. Your main goal here is to delay them just long enough for you to dive right into Ruric Thar, the Unbowed. That's why I think Mindbreak Traps are still ok in this matchup. However, if you expect a lot of ANT (instead of Belcher, Spanish Inquisition etc.), consider exchanging the two Traps for Thorn of Amethyst. Also note that due to your usually very quick early game beats delivered by Nettle Sentinel they will often be forced into Past in Flames, which means Deathrite Shaman + Quirion Ranger become super effective.
Elves!+3 Cabal Therapy
-1 Viridian Shaman
-1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
-2 Elvish Visionary
-1 Wirewood Symbiote
The mirror match is all about speed—so practice your die rolls! Once you're done, remember to always name Natural Order with Cabal Therapy. You should definitely not sideboard Mindbreak Traps here; especially on the play, diluting your deck in this way is a prime example of playing not to lose where in fact you should look out to capitalize on your huge tempo advantage. On top of that the Trap will almost never stop Natural Order.
You're rather soft to Dredge, but at least on the play you should often be able to simply outrace their Zombie army with the help of Craterhoof Behemoth. Once you're on the draw in post-board games, try hitting either their discard outlets or card draw spells with Thoughtseize.
Here are some more suggestions for sideboarding. As mentioned before, always adjust your configuration to what you actually see out of your opponent. Usually two or three Heritage Druids come out against removal-heavy decks in order to make room for the Progenitus combo (in which case you can easily cut one Craterhoof Behemoth). I also like siding out two Glimpse of Natures against decks with access to Ethersworn Canonist. The rest should be pretty much self-explanatory.
Sneak and Show
+3 Cabal Therapy
-1 Viridian Shaman
-1 Elvish Visionary
+1 Scavenging Ooze
-1 Wirewood Symbiote
(no need for Needle as they will just Elesh Norn you)
-1 Heritage Druid
-1 Nettle Sentinel
-1 Birchlore Rangers
I hope I managed to answer most of the question you guys sent me over the course of the last two weeks. Otherwise, feel free to shot me some more, and I'd be happy to help you out. So with that out of the way, let's just jump right into the amazing fairy tale I experienced at the Bazaar of Moxen!
After countless hours of streaming, I had finally settled my last issues with the sideboard of the deck. For way too long I had been trying to fight both graveyard-based strategies and Storm. While Magic Online has an annoyingly high presence of Oops, All Spells!, I eventually figured that not a whole lot of people would actually decide to play that deck in Paris. It's one thing to build Legacy's possible best budget deck on Magic Online for "fun"; I get that. However, actually taking it across the continent, renting a hotel room, and registering that deck to what might be the biggest tournament you will attend all year seemed so alien to me that I decided to (almost) not care about that deck. Considering that you sometimes get to outrace Dredge anyway and Reanimator had not yet fully returned to the top tier, I decided that beating Storm was where the money was.
The weekend before the BoM, I took my Elves out for a walk at the monthly Legacy tournament at the Funtainment Nuremberg. Gathering 52 players, it felt like a decent training ground to see how things would work out for the build I intended to take to Paris. Here's how I fared:
Round 1: Jund, 2:0 W
Round 2: U/W Faeries, 2:0 W
Round 3: Imperial Painter, 2:0 W
Round 4: Sneak Show, 2:1 W
Round 5: I-Kid-You-Not POX, 2:1 W
Round 6: Jund, 2:1 W
6-0, 1st place
Although I didn't get to battle Storm that day, my result just reaffirmed my faith in the deck. For past GPs, I often showed a tendency to chicken out and play something completely different from what I had tested before. Despite still making day 2 whenever I did so, it always felt like I was eventually unable to squeeze out the last bit of win percentage to finish high up the standings. This time things would be different. I played some more test games on Magic Online against Miracles, U/W/R Delver, and Storm (special kudos to Jori Hukka/kozel!) on Magic Online and—for the first time in my life—took a finalized decklist to a big tournament.
Getting to Paris should have been much easier than I made it for myself. Unfortunately, l am greedy when it comes to travel costs. Usually, that's a very positive trait, but every once in a while you will miss out on an otherwise perfect opportunity. During most of the year, flights from Munich to Paris hover at around 130 Euros. Not cheap according to my standards but decent. 10 days before the tournament, the price dropped below 95 Euros, yet I foolishly still held onto my money since I wasn't exactly sure for how long I wanted to actually stay in Paris. In the end, my greed and inability to make a final decision came back to bite me, as prices rose back all the way to 200 Euros, and I felt like a complete idiot. I actually work in the tourism industry (let me know if you ever come to Kenya!) and knew that there still was an ok chance prices would come down again but just didn't want to bother anymore. So the weekend before I eventually opted to make a booking, spending 139 Euros on a (return) train ticket from Munich to Paris.
Joining me on my epic journey would be my friend Florian Stange piloting Omni-Tell. Because we settled for the cheapest train possible, we departed Munich at 3:30 AM on Thursday morning. Here's some valuable advice for anyone travelling at these hours: bring a pillow!
After an uneventful six-and-a-half hour train ride, the two of us arrive in Paris and went for some immediate sightseeing. We visited a lot of popular sights (whose exact spelling I am Googling right now) and later met up with our friends Armin and Seppi. By the way, if you ever take a walk around Paris with a lot of luggage, make sure to walk down the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe towards the Louvre—definitely not the other way round. Why? You will know when you get there.
At the hotel we met up with the rest of the Munich/Nuremberg Legacy crew, who although not in full force still managed to send about twenty people to the tournament. We engaged in the usual Legacy elitist chit-chat and then headed back to downtown Paris. We neglected to actually climb the Eiffel Tower since a horde ("queue") of humans were blocking the entrance and just took some pictures instead.
For dinner, we cunningly decided to just walk around curelessly for over one hour in Nanterre in search for
a good an affordable a nearby any kind of restaurant. After walking down way too many dark alleys underneath dark office building, helplessly trying to find a way up to the real streets, the rain set in. At this point we figured that nobody would ever open any kind of restaurant where there wasn't any sidewalks or lights, so our hungry minds set out to find exactly that. After crossing even more parking docks and failing to climb a hill that kept eroding under our soaking wet feet, we eventually arrived at what must have been the center of La Defense (whose spelling I didn't Google!). We actually had to wait to dry off a little before sitting down at a fine self-service restaurant and getting ready for dinner. Because we were in Paris, I decided to explore the local cuisine (I knew it wasn't spelled "cousin!") and ordered an insalata caprese & pizza frutti di mare. Good times!
We headed back to the hotel, listened to some more of the latest Legacy-elitists-screwing-over-bad-players talk, and then decided to call it a day.
Day 0: The BoM Three-Bye Trial
After having gone to bed rather early (read: before midnight), I woke up at 8 AM and joined Armin and Seppi for breakfast. The buffet the hotel offered was ok, although I've seen better ones for sure. Always having a soft spot for croissants, I ended up drafting the perfect combination of cheese and ham with a slight splash of orange juice. Afterwards, we met up with Florian who had elected to skip breakfast in favor of a little bit more sleep and head over to the tournament center. Fortunately, I was one of the very first people in line for registration for the last-chance three-bye trial held that day. After signup, I just wander around, running into a lot of familiar faces and just enjoy the "calm before the storm" atmosphere that big tournaments usually bring about. Seatings and then pairings were posted—Bazar of Moxen Paris 2013, here we go!
Round 1: Kristian Melby – U/W/R Delver, 2-0 W
G1: Winning the die roll felt like a good way to start the tournament. Volcanic Island, Grim Lavamancer—not so much. Luckily my opponent didn't have a lot of other things going for him as he kept refilling his graveyards with cantrips and inefficient countermagic while eating up most of the creatures I threw at him. Due to the tempo advantage I was able to uphold over the course of about three turns, though, I was able to come crashing for—combined with fetch lands and Force of Will—a solid ten damage. Once he had stabilized with Stoneforge Mystic, I was eventually able to stick some more creatures as his graveyard was running dry. When he main phase Lightning Bolted and Swords to Plowsharesed half my team, I had to move all in on a potentially game-winning Natural Order. Long story short: he had neither Force nor Stifle, and I felt like I just won a game I really shouldn't have won.
G2: Usually, game 2 becomes easier since Pithing Needle gets them pretty good (Lavamancer, Jitte) and Abrupt Decay kills basically every non-land permanent in their deck. If I recall correctly, my opponent missed his third land drop followed by me Natural Ordering for Progenitus. (Un)fortunately, he drew two lands in a row, and after taking a hit from my Hydra Avatar, Supreme Verdict cleared the board. I just shrugged and landed Nettle Sentinel and Deathrite Shaman on the next turn. After he tapped out for Humility on his turn, my team took him all the way down to four. When he immediately passed after untapping and drawing, my spider senses started tingling. At this point he had a useless Umezawa's Jitte, previously deployed by Stoneforge Mystic on the battlefield, and four untapped lands. So instead of committing anything else to the board, I just attacked him down to two and pass. During my end step, he flashed in Vendilion Clique, which then intended to carry Jitte into combat. Abrupt Decay after declaring attackers had different plans for his Jitte, and he just extended the hand.
Round 2: Jakub Nowak - Junk, 2-1 W
My opponent for the second round of the trial was a very friendly guy from Poland(?) who came to Paris with his friends.
G1: Junk isn't a particularly hard matchup since their disruption usually costs a lot more mana than the ones you will face out of tempo decks. He tickled me a little bit but in the absence of discard just died to Natural Order.
G2: I don't remember a whole lot about this game except for my opponent fielding an early Gaddock Teeg that I was unable to remove. Soon enough I enter Abyss mode as a giant Knight of the Reliquary now demanded a brave creature to step forward and sacrifice itself every turn. Once I ran out of heroes with no Abrupt Decay in sight, I conceded.
G3: This game was a total blowout, much the way every Elves player likes it. Let me walk you through it:
Easy as that. I don't know what kind of hand he kept since it obviously contained neither discard nor one-mana removal. While he might have still had good cards, don't expect to get there against Elves with a non-blue deck when keeping a slow hand on the draw (unless it's able to handle Progenitus; Toxic Deluge anyone?).
Round 3: Yoann Fasel - Shardless BUG, 2-0 W
G1: A lot of people have told me I might be a bit overconfident in this matchup, but I used to play this a lot from Shardless BUG's side and especially in game 1 Elves carries a very strong advantage. Having to fear no kind of mass removal, I was quick to establish a big board presence, blanking all the Tarmogoyfs in the world. Visionary and Symbiote drew me into an insane amount of additional cards while Deathrite Shaman kept slowly grinding down on my opponent's life total. When he Thoughtseized me, he was faced with the choice between the devil (NO) and the deep blue sea (Glimpse). After opting for the former one, Glimpse closed out the game in disgustingly easy fashion. Sorry Shardless BUG, I really don't see you winning game 1 in this matchup.
G2: My opponent started the game with a healthy mulligan to a four on the play. At this point the Ancestral Visions he suspended on his first turn are even more of a liability as interaction-wise this essentially turns his hand into a mulligan to three for the first couple of turns. My goal was to set up the kill on turn 3 in order to take full advantage of his suspended Visions, but unfortunately his discard took my Natural Order. His Ancestral Visions resolved, but without any kind of board sweeper in sight, he was unable to match my tempo advantage, trading only 1:1 with most of my Elves while eventually resolving Tarmogoyf. No problem though as I untapped with him at six life and casually GSZ into a Quirion Ranger to go with my Deathrite Shaman and kill him on his next upkeep.
Round 4: Mecieck Berger - Elves!, 2-0 W
My opponent for this round was another very nice and happy guy from Poland. As I had dispatched his friend(?) in the first round of the trial, he already knew what deck I was on. When I asked him whether he was playing a good deck, he told me that he wasn't sure. After his first turn basic Forest into Nettle Sentinel, I reassured him that he in fact was playing a very potent deck.
G1: Time for the mirror match! Despite huge success with Elves before, I had already established quite the local reputation of constantly losing when facing the ones of my kind. Fortunately, things worked out better for me this game. In game of the mirror match it all comes down to keeping hands with a high probability of killing on turn 3, as there's gonna be literally zero interaction between you and your opponent. My opponent went first and was quick to establish the Wirewood Symbiote + Elvish Visionary combo on turn 2 thanks to Gaea's Cradle. However, the more he kept bouncing and replaying his Visionary onto an otherwise pretty stacked board (Heritage Druid, Gaea's Cradle, Nettle Sentinel, Quirion Ranger), the more the confidence grew in me that even if he eventually hit an out he would no longer being able to actually cast it. When he passed the turn, I knew that victory was mine. As I already had a Natural Order in my opening hand, finding four creatures until turn 3 was much less of a concern than for him finding actual business.
G2: Game 2 actually became way easier for me as it became apparent that we were on two different sideboard strategies. Mine not only turned out to be superior in this game but is definitely the way better way of handling the mirror match in general. I usually shy away from strong, bold, and definite statements like this but there's little I feel more strongly about than Mindbreak Traps in mirror matches. Not only (but especially!) on the play, just throw that card out the window and don't even dare to look at it. You're no stupid control deck trying to grind out a win here. What you are is an aggro-combo deck that wants to go for the throat ASAP! That's why I only sideboard discard—and even that might be a mistake when on the play.
So the way this game played out is that he played a Deathrite Shaman on the first turn while I Thoughtseized him off Bayou. He showed me a very unimpressive hand of some more lands, Nettle Sentinel, Quirion Ranger, Wirewood Symbiote, and Mindbreak Trap; I took the Quirion Ranger and passed the turn. We both deploy the rest of our hand on the second turn. When he drew for his third turn, I held my breath as a topdecked Natural Order would still do it for him. Instead, he drew an Elvish Visionary and did some more shenanigans with that but eventually failed to find the discard for my Natural Oder. I untapped and made a humble sacrifice to the Gods of Llanowar, and suddenly we saw four 5/5 angry Elves and their 10/10 Behemoth crashing in on my opponent's humble life total! *ROAAARRR*
Round 5: Daniel Heerens - Imperial Painter, 2-0 W
For this round, I sat down across some German guy from Berlin who told me we had played before. When I told him that I unfortunately didn't remember any of that, he stood by his point and told me he definitely knows me. Fine, I guess I'll play along and ask him what I was playing back then—he admitted to not remembering, but I most likely beat him. Works for me. It's always nice to see a little bit of discouragement on the other side of the table even if you're not the one to actually take credit for it. ;-)
G1: He led with (I believe) Goblin Welder but failed to make a play on the second turn. In the absence of Blood Moon, I quickly developed my board and got ready for summoning up Big Ol' Hoof on the next turn. After he tapped out for Painter's Servant on his third turn, I hesitated to immediately Natural Order as I was running the risk of getting "monkeyblasted" (Simian Spirit Guide + Pyroblast). So I just slammed the Glimpse of Nature I had just drawn; it resolved. This led to me drawing almost my entire deck just to make sure he was not slow rolling an unrealistic high amount of Blasts—sometimes I might be too paranoid. Hoof got there. After the match was over, the people standing behind my opponent gave him crap for not playing the Ensnaring Bridge in his hand instead of the Painter. I'm pretty sure that would have been the better play since he couldn't know that I was actually running the (unconventional choice of) Viridian Shaman in the maindeck anyway.
G2: I have talked to Jacob Kory, and for some reason we are pretty split on who's actually favored in this matchup—grudge match incoming? (To be fair he was actually referring to the U/R Painted Stone list he used in the most recent #SCGLA). My personal feeling is that Elves is really favored, especially against Imperial Painter after sideboarding—if not for the dreaded turn 1 Blood Moon on the play. With only two basic Forests in the deck, that card pretty much spells doom for green mage here.
I mulliganed my first acceptable hand that only contained a Bayou in order to find at least a fetch land of some sorts. A fetch land is actually better than a dual as it at least plays around a turn 2 Blood Moon. If you keep a Bayou, your only out to Blood Moon is finding the lone Llanowar Elves in your deck ASAP as Deathrite Shaman is not a reliable out here. For my six, I got rewarded for my conscious decision with a respectable hand that also contained a fetch land. Sure enough, my opponent failed to do anything on his first turn and slammed a suddenly-not-so-intimidating-anymore Blood Moon on the next turn. After that he didn't really bring anything useful to the table, while I did what I know best: develop my board, making sure to not overextend into something like Pyroclasm. When he eventually found Sensei's Divining Top, I had the Pithing Needle for it. As I had two Abrupt Decays in hand at this point, there was no reason to be actually afraid of his combo, so Needling the Top seems good here. I don't actually remember how I closed out the match, but I feel I just got there via careful beatdown.
Round 6: Tony Flamand - MUD, 2-1 W
I had absolutely no idea what he was playing, so I naturally asked him if thinks his deck is good. He gave me a confused look and then smiled and said, "It's not as good as yours. My deck is very dumb." Is it? I tell him that he shouldn't feel too bad about his deck and that I feel the matchup gets so much better after sideboarding, and he instantly agreed. Great, but now I still don't know what he's actually playing. If only I knew for whom it actually gets better after game 1; guess I'm about to find out.
My friends often tell me that it seems I like to do a lot of trash talking before and during matches; aside from sometimes getting actual information out of my opponent, I just like getting a better feel for what kind of personality you are sharing the game with. Exploring the attitude your opponent brings to the table is something I'd rather learn about before the match than feeling uncertain throughout the match. It's not like it is going to impact my decision making, but despite my competitive approach I really embrace the social aspect of the global Magic community—something which has grown me lots of friends everywhere in the entire world.
G1: Ancient Tomb, tap for mana, lose two life, Chalice on one—argh! At least I now know for whom the matchup is going to improve after sideboarding. Fortunately, I was going first and had dropped Deathrite Shaman. Despite the Chalice I was still able to assemble MUD's worst nightmare of Wirewood Symbiote + Viridian Shaman courtesy of two
Demonic Tutors on steroids Green Sun's Zenith. With the Shaman hopping back and forth, annihilating my opponent's entire board, he was quick to concede while the lethal Natural Order was already sitting my hand.
G2: During this game I made what I like to call one of the most classic mistakes people make in Vintage—not killing Metalworker when I had the chance to. After dropping Chalice of the Void on one on his first turn, Tony landed a Grim Monolith and slammed Metalworker onto the table. So here I was sitting with a pretty decent hand, looking to Natural Order up Progenitus as soon as possible. Unfortunately I had already adjusted my Cruise Missile (Abrupt Decay) onto Chalice, which I planned on killing on the end of his now following turn. Had I paid more attention I would have realized that my opponent was actually in a pretty dicey spot; he had missed his land drop on the second turn and was all in on the Metalworker as his Grim Monolith would likely remain tapped for some more turns. When he untapped, he immediately punished me for my foolish mistakes and revealed six artifacts, including Lodestone Golem and Steel Hellkite. After Decaying his Chalice of the Void in response to the Golem and not topdecking Viridian Shaman, I quickly scooped it up, and we move onto the final game.
G3: This match was over pretty quickly. He went for Chalice on one and two on his first two turns . . . followed by death by
little giant green men riding on top of a Behemoth. How is that even possible? I went for Deathrite Shaman on the first turn followed by GSZ for Quirion Ranger and Gaea's Cradle into Elvish Visionary. When he tapped out for his second Chalice, I knew victory was mine, and I just slammed Natural Order. Great, now I'm guaranteed at least one bye and a FBB Underground Sea.
Round 7: Rasmus Nilsson - Bant Aggro, 2-0 W
G1: For the last round of the trial, I sat down across from a familiar face, Rasmus from Denmark. The last time we met in Annecy, he easily dispatched me in the penultimate round of the trial in playing RUG Delver. This time things would be different since he was fielding his own take on the Bant Aggro list Reid Duke used to win the SCG Open the week before (including True-Name Nemesis). In this matchup, Elves just does what it always does against the plethora of midrangey decks in Legacy: set up an easy Natural Order or Glimpse kill. Having seen Reid Duke's list before, I was pretty sure he wasn't running any Force of Wills in his maindeck, so this game was rather easy to close out.
One thing that was noticeable was that he neglected to Wasteland a Dryad Arbor that I kept untapping with Quirion Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote during my Glimpse chain. At every point the Dryad was my only mana-producing creature, and I had no Quirion Ranger activations left as I was kinda starving on mana. At the last possible moment I even draw into Heritage Druid, suddenly freeing me from any mana concerns. After the match Rasmus acknowledged that he might have made a mistake there.
G2: After sideboarding things changed a little as he now had access to two Force of Wills as well as potentially Gaddock Teeg, which would force me into either finding an Abrupt Decay or focusing on Glimpse of Nature. However, since I usually side out two Glimpse of Natures against decks that are likely to have Ethersworn Canonist, Gaddock Teeg would actually be kinda annoying. Luckily, he only had the Force of Will for my Glimpse of Nature on turn 3, allowing me to safely Natural Order for Progenitus. Rasmus extended his hand and victory was mine—say hello to ten WB dual lands + three byes for the main event tomorrow!
At this time, I already felt incredibly happy. Winning back your travel expenses before the main event even starts takes away some of the psychological pressure of doing well in order to also have at least a little bit of financial justification—not that it really matters in the long run (unless you go pro). Still, starting my BoM experience by winning an almost 300-people tournament gave me a great feeling for the entire rest of the weekend!
Next week: how I won the tournament!