The tournaments are coming.
October is always a slow month for us mid-Atlantic folk, and I've been counting the days until November to begin battling again in the Open Series as well as the Grand Prix that are in my travel radius. While GP Nashville didn't go as planned, the Open Series is coming to Richmond, VA this month, so you better believe the Standard decks I've discussed with you recently will be ready to go by then. Since there has been a lot of controversy in regards to the Eternal formats, I wanted to talk about my Modern and Legacy decks that have been forced to change with the times.
I was ready to sleeve up U/W Stoneblade from 2011 and think nothing of it. I top 8'd the last Legacy Open I played in with it and narrowly lost, so I think the deck still has a ton of juice in it. A lot of my professional peers like to bust my chops on the lack of alteration I do to the 75 that I've battled with year after year, but I still maintain the "if it ain't broke" mentality.
That said, there are some slight changes to be made:
Treasure Cruise was a stupid card to print. When it was released, I completely passed by Dig Through Time because I knew what Treasure Cruise was going to do to older formats. Both of these delve cards are just too good for Modern and Legacy, and I believe they deserve an immediate banning. There are a few arguments that can be made that defend these two cards, but one of the many great things about Magic is that different opinions can coexist. And I am of the opinion that it's time to give these two cards the axe before they run rampant.
I played a few matches against U/R and Jeskai Delver in Legacy with traditional Esper Stoneblade and it wasn't pretty. I won a few games here and there, but you'd be surprised how fast an Ancestral Recall or two can get your opponent back into the game. I switched from old faithful to a U/W version of Stoneblade that utilized Treasure Cruise and found that it had more firepower in the fair matchups than ever before. The loss of Lingering Souls is offset by raw card advantage, which leads to more Stoneforge Mystics. Lingering Souls was a great supplemental card after they killed your Stoneforge Mystic, but with all of the card draw in this deck, there will always be more than one Stoneforge Mystic coming. As such, I've left the threat count of the kor artificer at four, the Jace the Mind Sculptor count at three to ensure I can always find one, and cut down to one Vendilion Clique because it's so easy to find. I thought long and hard about including True-Name Nemesis in the maindeck, but you simply don't need it in a format with a ton of cards being drawn, where an answer for your "trump creature" will eventually be found on a more frequent basis.
By removing black from the deck, I've made my combo matchup a bit worse, but hand disruption loses some value when the eventual topdeck of a draw three is happening on a regular basis. Even the combo decks can just cast a Dig Through Time and regain what was lost. Once they ban Treasure Cruise, I will make a glorious return to the Esper version of Stoneblade, but in the meantime, we have to make due. It's just too hard of a feat to do at this moment. I never enjoy using what's hot like everyone else, but I instead enjoy countering the trend with pure, control muscle. But as long as Treasure Cruise is in Legacy, I'll sleeve them up and draw infinite cards just like my opponent sitting across from me.
Treasure Cruise is now a staple among any deck playing blue, which resembles Brainstorm's involvement in Legacy. The question comes up then, "Why wasn't Brainstorm removed since the Legacy boom that happened years ago?" The term staple needs to be addressed in order to answer that question. Legacy has been a healthy format for quite some time now. If you look at decks like Elves, Dredge, Lands, Imperial Painter, and a few other decks that have walked away with title after title on the Open Series, you'll notice that they aren't using Brainstorm. Brainstorm is a super powerful card, and it helps fuel many of the decks in Legacy, but it isn't inherently broken like Treasure Cruise is. Putting cards back can often be difficult and the advantage is minimal when using Brainstorm. In the Invitational finals against Gerry Thompson, I mulliganed to five and cast Brainstorm out of necessity, and there was no advantage to be had. Of course, you'll see a few lands shuffled away, and in a sense, it does the same thing as Treasure Cruise, but not enough to constitute it in the unfair column. Treasure Cruise in a vacuum isn't a broken card (and you'll see that in Standard), but in combination with the full ten fetchlands and cheap cantrips, it is simply too good. I know many of you agree on these points and I'm probably preaching to the choir, but the conversation has to amplify in order to make change occur. This Grand Prix in New Jersey will be a huge indicator on if a problem exists, but I think we may have to get used to playing with this card for months regardless.
U/W Stoneblade has an incredible consistency to it. Esper Stoneblade was just too difficult to format into a Treasure Cruise deck. Trying to fit a four-of draw spell into the maindeck requires a decent amount of cuts and alterations in order to make the synergy happen. Lingering Souls is awkward with Treasure Cruise in Legacy, but not too bad in Modern. I know that may sound odd, but in Legacy, everything is much faster and drawing three cards at sorcery speed is in the same "fair" playbook as making spirit flyers. So one had to go. The mana in U/W Stoneblade in comparison to Esper Stoneblade has also been a real eye opener. It is tough to get manascrewed by Wasteland when dropping to a two-color strategy, which is another perk of the change. It falls into the same argument of consistency versus power, and when you have the ability to continue to draw cards at an unprecedented level at the price of losing some power, it's worth it. The combo matchup is the only one that has significantly weakened due to the switch, but Meddling Mage in the sideboard along with the quantity of countermagic has helped me put up a fight.
The same argument for the power of Treasure Cruise transfers to Modern, which is a slower format by default. All of the fetchlands are there to power the card-draw engine and enough cantrips exist to also help. I converted U/W Control from my GP Richmond success to Esper to take full advantage of Treasure Cruise and the delve mechanic. The theory of hand disruption being weak against opposing decks with card draw isn't as valid in Modern as it is in Legacy. Brainstorm and Ponder are absent from this world, so there aren't as many ways to recuperate into Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time in this format. Treasure Cruise is also less played because of the power of non-blue decks in Modern as opposed to Legacy.
There aren't many Modern events that are coming up that I'm attending, so my focus will be on Legacy and Standard for the next few weeks. I wanted to give you guys my rough draft of a Modern deck to take, tweak, and test. Let me know how it performs for you, and I'll be sure to take that into consideration when making my own updates when a Modern tournament arrives.
Have I mentioned lately that I love Standard? The two options that I have presented you guys these last few weeks are both still valid selections moving forward. My latest Esper list in Standard has changed significantly, and I want to unveil that to all of you that didn't see it on Twitter recently. It is a greedy deck that has a heavy mana requirement in the early turns, but after playing a ton of matches online, I realized that my problem wasn't with too many colors. It was speed.
Even though you need double black, white, and blue, the fourteen enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands build your mana perfect in conjunction with Polluted Deltas and the scry mechanic. There are times you get those awkward hands with two Plains and a bunch of blue cards, but mulligans have treated me well. I have loved the combination of Thoughtseize and Despise in the maindeck, and using all six to rip an opponent's hand to shreds early on in the game. You have to use these differently than you have in the past, however.
In the old Esper Control days, you would Thoughtseize your opponent and take their scariest threat, but in this deck you have to take the early drops over lategame problems. This is because of how slow the lands are, the lack of good two-drops, and the power of the lategame for Esper Control in this format. Elspeth, Sun's Champion has never looked so good, being an absolute haymaker against every deck out there if you can survive that long. End Hostilities has been exactly what I thought, which is slow and not good enough against aggro decks. Even though it's terrible against Mono-Red, it is an absolute bomb against the majority of decks out there using Forests. The inclusion of four Drown in Sorrow acts as the real Supreme Verdict and gives you a fighting chance against the super aggressive decks.
I don't know if I'm going to battle with Esper or Sultai in the Richmond Open, but it will be one of those two decks. I'm fighting the urge to return back to normalcy and sleeve up the Temple of Deceits, but it's hard! I enjoy playing Sultai more and that may be good enough going forward I assume.
Enjoy all of these deck lists my friends, and I look forward to your feedback in the near future!