It has been observed that anyone living on the West Coast has approximately zero chance of topping the SCG Players' Championship Leaderboard unless their last name happens to be Jensen. If anything, that is an understatement. I checked yesterday—a person living where I do in Southern California unwilling to drive more than ten hours to an Open Series could attend three this year. And yet somehow I convinced myself it was worth flying to Texas to play last weekend. I suppose it's worth explaining the
logic thinking behind the trip and highlight some of my experiences on the way to finishing second in the Legacy Open in Dallas.
Before I get into this, I suppose I should reintroduce myself. My name is Joe Lossett. I wrote an article for this very website eleven years ago, but I doubt too many of you were playing back then. As recently as 2012 I would have described myself as a Magic player who had found more success in Legacy. Now I call myself a Legacy player, albeit one who somehow won a pair of Standard Opens last year.
When the Leaderboard reset at the end of the Season One, I didn't expect any big changes. Yes, I had just finished fifth in the Season One Invitational, but last year in quarter one I won an Open. Those two would probably cancel out I thought. That part I got mostly right. I stayed almost exactly where I was, but many other players fell so I jumped ten spots in the rankings. The week leading up to #SCGDAL I was in eighth, with an unrealistic but possible shot at getting second this season. In order to do that, I have to play in some events. Those three drivable Open Series I mentioned? None of them are in Season Two.
Because the airlines made a mess out of my travel to Charlotte for the Season One Invitational, I had a voucher good enough to take me on another trip. If I wanted to make a run, it had to start early in the season—like right now. I needed to establish early on whether it would be worthwhile to try to grind Open Points elsewhere, so I decided to fly to Dallas. If I made a Top 8 on the trip, I decided I would plan another. If this trip didn't go well, then I would scale back to something more akin to what I would normally do.
This deck is my baby. It's now been two years since I picked it up, although I didn't run Counterbalance itself for the first month. A lot of cards have been in and out, and several different approaches to building and playing the deck have come and gone. Some of you will remember when Rest in Peace / Helm of Obedience Miracles and Punishing Fire Miracles were common.
If you're unfamiliar with my work, then the noteworthy inclusions are the maindeck copies of Elemental Blast. That started as an experiment several months ago, but now I think of it as part of my baseline list. The real change for me this time around was dropping the second Mystic Gate and putting a second Spell Pierce back in.
Several times in the last few months I've been stuck with double Mystic Gate and one other land. The problem is that this set of lands cannot produce colored mana during more than one phase of the turn cycle. If you want to cast Counterbalance, Spell Pierce will not be available during the opponent's turn.
That's the downside
But there are also times when Mystic Gate is significantly better than Tundra. However, a week before Dallas I was playing in a small event, and my opponent cast a Choke. That's one of the reasons to run Mystic Gate in the first place, and yet as he played it I couldn't remember the last time I had seen a Choke in play. Right on the spot I decided to cut a Mystic Gate for a third Tundra.
At the moment I think the fundamental choice when playing Miracles is whether you prefer Vendilion Clique or Snapcaster Mage. To go from one to the other requires a series of steps, each one logical on its own:
- Start with the above list except change all the Vendilion Clique to Snapcaster Mage and you'll realize that we need more cheap spells to fully utilize them.
- Ponder is the best, so let's put in a pair.
- That means we don't need as many lands, so cut one.
- We can't really cut a basic or a dual, so it has to be the extra Karakas.
- Without double Karakas, Venser, Shaper Savant is much weaker, so that goes also.
- We want Snapcaster to be good in a longer game, so we probably want another Counterspell.
- Plug one in for a Counterbalance.
There's one issue remaining. Unlike Brainstorm, Ponder wants to be cast on turn 1. Mountain and Mystic Gate probably need to become Volcanic Island and Tundra. That creates another concern. Two copies of Elemental Blast without a stable red source is scary, so let's change those both to Swords to Plowshares since they also kill Delver of Secrets. As a bonus, we're much safer against Dark Confidant this way, which is the scariest card to face with my current iteration of the deck.
And now we're done! We have just transformed from my Clique-heavy list into something roughly similar to the Snapcaster builds that did well at the last Legacy Grand Prix. Even though there are a lot of differences between the two builds, I think they can all be traced to that one initial choice.
I could write pages and pages about decklists and play decisions with Miracles. Do I get tired of studying this deck? I get asked that occasionally, and the answer is still no. I do not. I believe Miracles (and Legacy in general) has essentially infinite depth that I'm nowhere close to becoming bored with.
I'm not going to cover every round. Instead I will talk in detail about two games. In the first, I was forced to play with almost no resources, so there were not a lot of decisions to be made. The second had all kinds of things going on. In between I'll bring up a couple other random thoughts that arose during the day.
Featured Game #1: Round 1 Game 3 vs. Manaless Dredge
My favorite game of the day came during the first round. My opponent won the roll and chose to go second. So unless it was someone playing Omni-Tell that was familiar with Lejay's writing, my opponent had to be playing Manaless Dredge. I promptly lost the first game, but not before he demonstrated his inexperience with the deck. I won the second when my mull to five included a Rest in Peace that beat his questionable sequencing.
The third game was something to remember. Five cards won the previous game so I guess my deck decided to up the difficulty factor, and after several minutes of shuffling and drawing I was awarded the following four-card hand:
At that point I started thinking that flying to this event might have been a little ambitious. His first discard was a dredger before passing the turn back. I drew another blue card, so the best I could hope for was him having a Gitaxian Probe. He did, enabling Force of Will to actually do something. This was essentially a Time Walk since my opponent now had to wait a turn to get back to eight cards in hand to begin discarding again. I found a third land so I could cast my Vendilion Clique, which took the Phantasmagorian he was about to pitch. He unloaded a Golgari Grave-Troll instead, and I was hellbent on turn 3.
With my board consisting of three lands and Clique, I begged my deck for a Rest in Peace. Instead I received a Terminus followed a turn later by a fourth land. Meanwhile he started flipping over useful cards, and the next turn was likely to be my last.
Come on deck, give me a chance! I mulled to four freaking cards. Rest in Peace or Relic of Progenitus—let's see it!
I drew another Vendilion Clique. Yuck . . . well, that's not nothing I supposed. It would however require some cooperation from my opponent. I attacked with the one in play, putting my opponent down to ten. During his upkeep and dredge, several creatures jumped onto the board. Dread Return sacrificed three creatures with nine Bridge from Below triggers. He reached for tokens, and I stopped him. My heart was pounding now (it took me several minutes after the match to calm down). It was important that I looked defeated so that he didn't overthink anything. My chances were slim enough as it was, ya know?
"I didn't hear the target. What are you reanimating?"
Okay, I got lucky, but I still needed my opponent to mess up. But I at least had a chance. I stopped him again.
There was a crowd watching at this point, and every one of them was probably waiting to see if I would miracle another Terminus. Here I was playing against Manaless Dredge, and my opponent going to combo kill me with Flayer of the Hatebound and a massive Golgari Grave-Troll. My hand was empty, and I got to draw one replacement card.
It was his turn. I had not drawn a card yet, so miracles were live. I peeled off the top card . . .
"Stop. Pyroblast my Clique, removing the last Bridge."
Flayer came into play and shot me for four. He used a Cabal Therapy to bump the Flayer and hit me for five more.
I had no hand. I had no creatures. I was at two.
My opponent stopped and thought for a while. I began eyeballing a judge, hoping they would force my opponent to do something. Time kept passing. I was told it was only a minute, but I swear it was an hour. Finally, unable to come up with a way to avoid decking on his next turn, he gave up, and I start breathing again.
Did you notice anything wrong there?
My opponent was correct in that he wouldn't be able to survive his next draw step. But it shouldn't have mattered. I was dead on board. Returning an Ichorid with Flayer of the Hatebound in play would have allowed him to kill me during his upkeep.
So that was round 1. I dropped game 1 and then sweated through five mulligans in two sideboard games, both of which could have been won by my opponent. What can I say? Legacy is awesome.
What else happened during the afternoon? I'm glad you asked.
Fearing 12 Post
Someone told me after round 4 that there were two players doing well with 12 Post. That was the last thing I expected or wanted to hear. They must have both started losing, and I was fortunate not to face them because the matchup is so bad that I don't even bother worrying about how to fit additional cards into the board to fight it. Blood Moon increases your chances, but not by as much as you would think. If Miracles ever starts to take over Legacy, take comfort in the knowledge that there is an already existing deck that dominates it.
During the latter half of the event, I happened to walk by a table of undefeated players finishing game 2. The matchup was Miracles versus U/W/R Delver. I stood and watched in disbelief as the Miracles player rechecked his sideboard and made no additional changes for game 3. He had apparently boarded out three Swords to Plowshares and a Terminus after game 1. I don't know what could possess even an inexperienced player to end up in that spot. If he was right, you might as well stop reading this article right now because that means I have no idea what I'm doing.
My Counterbalance Curse Gets Rewarded
Although I hadn't done it in at least a month, I normally cannot make it through an entire event without forgetting Counterbalance is on the board. You can say that's stupid, and I'm not one to disagree. Losing track of the board is perhaps my biggest weakness as a player. Somehow it always happens. At this event I managed to stave it off until game 2 of the finals.
When my Entreat the Angels got Dazed, I fetched with my last land and immediately paid for it, with no thought whatsoever of checking with Counterbalance first. Solis had a second copy, and I was fortunate to hit a two-drop blind and get to resolve the Entreat.
I realized an hour later that passing on the first Counterbalance trigger was the right decision. The only relevant card he could have had was another Daze. So if a two was floating, then I might as well have drawn out the second copy, and if not, the Entreat was getting countered anyway. There is no potential gain from blind flipping on the original Daze, but there is a significant upside to forgetting. Isn't that wild? I wish I could say that I realized that in the heat of the moment and did it on purpose.
Featured Game #2: Round 5 Game 1 vs. U/W/R Delver
I know I covered the game against Manaless Dredge in some detail, but that was mostly for dramatic effect. There wasn't much decision making going on. I was matched against a linear deck and never had enough resources to allow me to make a choice about anything. So now I'm going to go over a game that was nothing but decisions, several of which I was wrong about. I'm also going to mention occasional choices my opponent had even though I didn't have knowledge of them during the game. This section will be easier to read if you've seen the game, which you can find here.
I won the roll and saw this opener:
This is a pretty well-rounded hand. If you polled a group of Miracles players, you might see some different answers, but Scalding Tarn and passing the turn is going to be my choice against an unknown opponent since holding up Spell Pierce is safe. You lead with the Tarn because you want to be able to fetch an Island in case you need to play Spell Pierce, and I can still get a Plains next turn if the Swords is necessary.
Volcanic Island into Grim Lavamancer isn't conclusive but is more likely to be U/R Delver than any three-color Delver deck. We each deployed a one-drop on our second turn, and then I used the Flooded Strand in order to activate the Top. If I thought this was RUG Delver, I would fear Stifle and leave the fetch on the table, but RUG Delver isn't common anymore and is unlikely to have Grim Lavamancer anyway.
I'm not sure what the commentators mean here when they suggest I'm doing a Stifle check. I suppose getting blown out is one way of checking. But with Spell Pierce in hand, if I thought there was a realistic chance that I was facing a Stifle, I would "check" while the Island was untapped.
On turn 3 I removed his Delver of Secrets. Watching the replay now, I can't imagine what I was thinking. Waiting until the Delver trigger resolved would have been so much better. Potentially seeing a card is worth much more than giving my opponent two life. I deservedly get punished, as his draw turned out to be the Stifle that wiped out my Flooded Strand a few seconds later.
Tyler had an interesting choice here, although I didn't notice it until the second time I watched the replay. If he played Tundra, I would know he was playing U/W/R Delver, but if he played Wasteland, I would know he wasn't playing U/R Delver with Price of Progress. He decided instead to very effectively conceal his hand by skipping his land drop.
And now we get to the Stifle. If it was even remotely on my radar, I would have floated the lands to the top. Instead I was floating the second Sensei's Divining Top, which is what I would do if there was any risk to the first Top being destroyed in response to the fetch. But when facing U/R Delver in game 1, there's no chance that happens, so this was another clear error on my part.
When I got to untap, I drew the second Top. Tyler wasn't going to waste a counterspell on a redundant Top, and I didn't want to not have one on the board, so I played the new one and then cashed it in immediately to make my land drop instead of doing it the other way around, which plays around Spell Pierce.
On his turn Tyler played a Brainstorm. I don't fault him for not playing a land first since he was certainly hoping to find a fetch land, but playing the Wasteland last turn would have significantly impacted the game here. His Brainstorm would have resolved, and Spell Pierce would have remained stranded in my hand. I do think that given his hand and the state we were at that using his own Spell Pierce to counter mine would have been a good idea.
At the end of my next turn, he tapped his last colored source to Lightning Bolt me. Against a deck with Stifle, I would have been wary about cashing in my new Flooded Strand, but his Bolt guaranteed that I could resolve it. And then on his next turn, Tyler finally revealed white mana, but without any real reason to do so other than potentially hard casting a Force of Will once he drew a fifth land.
The three fresh cards I saw floating during his end step provided a ton of options. Since I didn't have a fifth land, the one thing I was doing for sure was immediately casting Vendilion Clique into a potential Daze. I didn't especially want to take the Top off the board, so I decided to draw step the Entreat the Angels this turn. At this point I knew Tyler was holding a Volcanic Island and two other cards. If he Forced my Entreat, I could draw off the Divining Top and Force back, and this is why the Brainstorm was placed above the Jace, the Mind Sculptor. But he had the Spell Pierce that he didn't use earlier, so I couldn't risk using Force of Will at that point because his last card could be another taxing counter.
When I brainstormed with Jace the turn after he played Stoneforge Mystic, I expected to find a removal spell. This however did not happen, so I knew there was a good chance Jace was going to die. While that was happening, though, I could shut down the rest of Tyler's deck.
I didn't expect to untap with Tundra still on the board, but it made my life much easier when I did. Instead of having mana to activate Top, I would be able to cast Counterspell, except that Tyler drew another Daze and caught me. Strangely enough, if he used the Wasteland, the Daze wouldn't have been able to do anything.
I immediately untapped and made what I think was my worst mistake of the entire tournament. And I realized it three seconds after I did it. By using any land other than Tundra to activate the Top, I transform his Wasteland into a Time Walk. All I had was a Force of Will, and I wouldn't be able to cast it if he activated Wasteland. I didn't get punished, but that doesn't make my play any less bad.
Skipping forward a few turns, when Tyler played a Brainstorm into my Counterbalance plus Top, I let it resolve. I was more afraid of getting Lightning Bolted in response to a Sensei's Divining Top activation than I was of any cards he could actually draw. From there I just had to plus Jace each turn until Tyler gave up.
The rest of the event was pretty smooth. If you want to listen to a long-winded account of the entire event, you can find it in my stream archive. I hope you got something out of this read. It's been a while since I've written anything this long, and I fear it may be a little disjointed. When all was said and done, I was runner-up in Dallas and managed to pick up sixteen Open Points on the weekend. I find this hard to believe, but it does look like I will be tied for fourth place in the Season Two race for the SCG Players' Championship. So I guess if I plan on travelling to any more SCG events this season, it makes sense that they happen soon.
Maybe I'll see you out there.