Well, Grand Prix New Jersey happened last weekend, and, while I usually prefer to look ahead, there's a lot of value to synthesis after an event, and sometimes there are stories to tell.
For this Grand Prix, I was pretty sure I wanted to play Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time. Sure enough that I didn't test any other decks. I knew U/R Delver would be a solid choice, as everyone knew, but that it wouldn't be spectacular, as everyone knew about it and would be trying to beat it. I spent a few evenings testing with Matt Severa, mostly the mirror, trying some variations, and I tried splashing green for Tarmogoyf on Gau's suggestion. Gau was right that Tarmogoyf was great in the mirror, but Tropical Island was just horrendous.
I also tested quite a bit on Magic Online, where I did "medium" as they say these days. I tried "stock" Delver, which is to say Glenn Jones' configuration, and another take with a lot more burn (4 Chain Lightning, 2 Price of Progress, 2 Fireblast) instead of Force of Will, Forked Bolt, and Pyroblast. I went 8-4 with the burn version, and 0-4 with the traditional version, but both felt about as good, and the different records mostly felt like variance.
Some of my losses were to Jeskai decks that were a little more controlling, and sometimes the matchup felt horrible. I was pretty sure that the best deck in the format was a slightly slower Jeskai deck that might play Dig Through Time over Treasure Cruise, but when I tried building Jeskai, I played mirrors and found myself radically outmatched due to very slightly different card choices. It became clear that having the exact right configuration was incredibly important if I wanted my deck to be more controlling, and I just didn't feel like I could get it right in time, so I decided it was safer to take a more aggressive role.
It always feels weird to go to a GP when I don't feel like I'd feel particularly confident playing in a MTGO Daily Event. Surprisingly, that's my experience a lot more often than you'd think.
I was incredibly impressed by the opponents I played against on MTGO in Legacy. They just kept properly playing around things and not walking into traps I set that I expected to work. I don't know what else to say about them, they were just way above expectation on average. I think it makes sense. You have to be really invested to put together a Legacy deck on MTGO, especially with the state of the program as it is, so they must have all been pretty serious and pretty experienced with the format. People like to write of the results off MTGO Dailies because they're just four rounds and it's MTGO. That's half right. Four is very few rounds, but the competition seemed way above expectation at physical events short of an Open Series Invitational. This makes the results of the players who consistently performed with rogue decks even more impressive to me.
For the event, my plan was to fly into New York City and stay with Gau Friday before the event, then rent a car and drive down to Edison Saturday morning. I ended up staying up late Friday night working on my deck with Gau, Matt Severa, and Greg Ogreenc, who were all playing the same deck as Gau, and discussing our choices on the phone with Tom Martell. We decided to play:
I went to sleep at around 4:15am, and needed to wake up at around 9:00am to get ready to head out. Not too bad, considering my usual schedule is to sleep around ten hours a night except Friday and Saturday nights, when I have to get up early for tournaments. I'm used to it. As it turned out though, it wasn't possible to sleep past 6:45. Gau has a toddler, and when he and his grandparents woke up, it wasn't possible to stay asleep. This should have been entirely predictable, but I hadn't really thought it through, since the last time I saw Gau's son, he was an infant.
We had plenty of time for breakfast, and I managed to eat at my favorite falafel place (Tam in NYC - I'm something of a falafel connoisseur, having eaten them all over the world, and that place is great, especially with the eggplant salad) on the way out.
When we got to the site, the first person I ran into was Pete Hoefling, who was sitting at the stage by the door. Pete is my employer, but he's so far removed from me in the organization of StarCityGames that I basically never see or interact with him. He feels less like a boss and more like a mysterious benefactor who unwittingly allows me to have this job that I love, so I stopped to take some time to thank him for everything. We talked a bit about things that could happen to make the GP better. He asked for feedback, but I didn't have much since I'd just arrived. I told him I'd heard the event was delayed, and I understand that's inevitable, but it'd be better if that didn't happen. He said it was because so many people dropped after the players' meeting, having registered just to get the promos. This isn't too big of a deal, but I suggested that it might be best if events worked in such a way that people weren't incentivized to register for events they didn't want to play in. Obviously, StarCityGames is trying to make the event a great value for its players, and that's great, and I don't want them to change that, but I suggested that maybe if it was possible to run the event more like a convention, where everyone who enters the convention gets the promos, and then they could just play side events or something, it might both disrupt the tournament less and allow people to spend their money doing exactly what they actually want to be doing. Just something to consider.
The next person I ran into was Osyp Lebedowicz, who'd read a facebook post I'd written on the plane, and I had a good conversation about it with him. A few other people approached me throughout the weekend to thank me for writing it, which I really appreciated.
Finally, I made my way to the VIP lounge, where I overheard some people talking about playing Martyr of Sands/Proclamation of Rebirth in Legacy and losing to Umezawa's Jitte, so of course I got to suggest that they fix the problem with the best card for the job, Goblin Bombardment. Always good to get a chance to spread the word of the bombardment.
The tournament itself was pretty awesome. Almost every match ended with under five minutes on the clock, and most of the games were pretty sweet. Throughout the weekend, it felt like most of the matches could have been won by the player who lost if they'd played a little better, regardless of whether I won or lost, which I think is a great feeling.
In the first round, I played against Elves. I don't remember all the details, but in the third game my opponent had Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze, with four lands, and I had three Treasure Cruises in my hand. Somehow, at some point he let me resolve one of them for four mana, and I was able to turn the game around, narrowly outracing the Scavenging Ooze with some supercharged Monastery Swiftspears. I wouldn't have been in the game if he'd just kept my graveyard empty instead of playing spells.
In the next round, I had a video feature match against Ben Weinberg playing Storm. He fizzled with an Ad Nauseum once, and afterwards said he thought he might have been able to win if he'd stopped earlier. I had no idea, as I don't play the deck because I never have, and it seems like it'd take a while to learn.
My next opponent was playing Death and Taxes, and the match started off with me playing Monastery Swiftspear, then Gitaxian Probe and attacking into my opponent's newly played Thalia, Guardian of Thraben that I had no answer to. My opponent mysteriously blocked, having forgotten that I'd just cast a Gitaxian Probe, but I still lost that game. I managed to draw some good sideboard cards in the next games, and my opponent attempted to Wasteland me out in game 3 while I was on a land-heavy hand and he was on a land light hand, which did not go well for him.
In the seventh round, I played against Miracles, where in game 3 my opponent used Swords to Plowshares on a Monastery Swiftspear of mine while I was at 9--maybe 13--and he had two Angel tokens from Entreat the Angels. I convinced myself that I didn't want to use Force of Will to save the Monastery Swiftspear because I didn't want to go to a multiple of four that would have made it easier for the angels to kill me, but my friends pointed out after the match that I actually had the win in hand if I'd used the Force. I'd just tanked forever on a Ponder, and the judge told me I needed to play faster, and I just couldn't think through things clearly and quickly enough to see it. I think this is likely a match that my poor night's sleep cost me.
I played against Death and Taxes in round eight, and I think my opponent lost by putting the wrong equipment in with Stoneforge Mystic. He had three lands and Stoneforge Mystic in play, very little life, and a Batterskull that I knew about. I thought I could probably race, but it'd be difficult. He chose to put Sword of Fire and Ice into play instead, equipped Stoneforge Mystic, attacked me and killed one of my creatures, and then died to an attack plus a Lightning Bolt on my turn. If he'd put Batterskull into play, the life would mean that I wouldn't be able to kill him on my turn, and he could put Sword in that turn and equip it to Batterskull the next turn. If he draws another land, he could both put the sword in and equip it for a best of both worlds scenario.
In round nine I had an off camera feature match against Tom Martell, playing almost the same deck as me, since we'd talked. In the first game, he drew a lot of blue spells and I drew a lot of red spells. Generally, I'd rather draw blue spells, but his blue spells drew him into lands rather than spells, as he managed to assemble the combo of thirteen of his sixteen lands to lose the game.
We thought about the matchup pretty differently, and we sideboarded differently as a result. Tom was of the opinion that the matchup is pretty fast, as one person can get really far ahead really quickly, and he wanted to push the tempo aspect with Force of Will. He also thinks the deck is pretty mana hungry and might want a seventeenth land.
I think the matchup is mostly grindy, as both players have around eleven threats (since we were both only playing three Young Pyromancers) and roughly seventeen answers depending on your count and how you sideboard. All the threats and answers are super-efficient, but the answers still cost less on average than the threats. To me, the primary signifier that a matchup will be about attrition is the ratio of answers to threats, and this should fall firmly on the attrition side, where card advantage matters more than tempo. As a result, I think the basic Mountain is horrible in the mirror, as it really doesn't let you keep an opening hand, and you really only need one land to operate. You never want to draw into it because your lands aren't being attacked. I also think Force of Will is bad because it sets you back, and Flusterstorm is good because it competes against Treasure Cruise, the most important card, and has an outside chance to two for one. Tom flooded out again in the third game and I won.
I started day two off with a match against Lands that I made much harder for myself than I needed to. My opponent played Chalice of the Void for one in game 2, so of course I immediately Force of Will'd it, because it was a Chalice of the Void for one. Then I looked at my hand and remembered that my plan for the next two turns was to cast Young Pyromancer and then hope there was a target in play for my Smash to Smithereens, which there would have been. Instead, in addition to stranding the Smash to Smithereens in my hand, I wasted a Force of Will, which meant that my opponent was able to resolve a Crop Rotation to have The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale join his Maze of Ith in holding off my two Young Pyromancers and two tokens. I only had two lands, so that quickly became just two Pyromancers. Fortunately, my opponent didn't really have anything going on, so I got to spend a couple turns just hitting him for two. Eventually, I got to the point where I could kill him with Lightning Bolt and Fireblast, so I did that, forgetting that he might be able to interact. He used Crop Rotation to find Glacial Chasm in response to the Fireblast and the game went on, but now I only had an Island. For some reason he sacrificed his Maze of Ith, and I was able to keep an elemental token around (he'd killed off the Young Pyromancers with Punishing Fire, I think). He had to let the Glacial Chasm die, so I was able to attack him down to one on my next turn, but then he finished off my token and/or got the Chasm back into play. At some point around here he played a Ghost Quarter, and I was worried that he'd kill my Island and I wouldn't be able to do anything, but he thought I might have another in my deck, so he used it on himself to get a green mana to get another Exploration into play, and I was able to use Ponder to find a fetchland to set up a kill with Lightning Bolt in his upkeep when he let his Glacial Chasm die.
The next two rounds were a haze of Death and Taxes. I believe I lost the first and won the second, getting beaten down by some really great draws featuring Brimaz, King of Oreskos, who seems great in that deck, and winning a match where I drew Sulfur Elemental.
After that, I had a feature match against Gau (seriously, a four thousand person tournament and I have to play against both of the people I have a lifetime split with? Outrageous!) where I played badly to lose the last game again. He Gitaxian Probe'd me and saw Fireblast, then attacked with two Monastery Swiftspears, which would put him dead to my Fireblast if I cast it the end of his turn, triggering both of my Young Pyromancers. Clearly, he had an answer or he wouldn't have done that, but I went for it anyway and he had Flusterstorm. I drew a Chain Lightning, which I couldn't cast because I'd binned my Mountains, and he killed me with his Swiftspears. It was a really terrible play on my part.
I beat Tezzeret in round fourteen. I had answers for all of his Chalice of the Voids, which meant that he really couldn't compete with my Treasure Cruises, and I got to cast all four of them in game 2, as he'd sided in a ton of answers and I'd sided out almost all of my burn.
In the final round I played against Thomas Judge, who beat me senseless with Nimble Mongoose. It was a fun, but pretty weird match. He was totally out of it at the end of this tournament, having accepted some deeply suboptimal sleeping arrangements, but the green cards were just too hard for me to overcome. He says Nimble Mongoose is the best card in Legacy, which is an aggressive position, but one I'd known might have been true after seeing the results of a Legacy tournament in Japan shortly after Treasure Cruise was printed where the top finishers were playing Temur Delver instead of Treasure Cruise, and Kenji seemed unimpressed by Treasure Cruise. Of course, the fact that I never saw a Treasure Cruise in our three games made competing with Nimble Mongoose particularly difficult, but I think Temur Delver is solidly favored against U/R Delver specifically, and he said he'd been beating it all weekend.
As our game was ending, I asked if he cared at all about Pro Points, and he said he didn't, so I asked him if wanted to concede, and he immediately agreed. This was a pleasant surprise to me, as I'd actually stopped bothering to ask opponents that for the most part--they accept so rarely--but I'd just heard other players talking about it two tables over, and I figured it couldn't hurt to ask. Aside from getting the win, which gave me a solid GP result for my quest for points, it was nice to end the day by playing against a genuinely nice, fun, and generous opponent.
Actually, come to think of it, all of my opponents were great sports, and I had nothing but great interactions with people all weekend.
Four thousand person events can definitely drag on, as I had about half an hour between each round despite consistently playing until the end of the round, but I appreciated the time between rounds, as playing constantly would have been pretty intense, and I had a lot of fun hanging out at the event.
To me, this supports the idea of moving Grand Prix to more closely model conventions, with a main event but also more fully supported side events by slightly shifting the focus and promos as I discussed with Pete. This might help allow organizers to run larger and more fun events while minimizing the number of players in the main event to keep the event reasonable. This could also help with finding venues that work, as we'd no longer have to prioritize keeping everyone in a single room, as there could just be a second room for side events. Just something to consider.
As for Legacy, I think, as I did going into the event, that U/R Dever is a fine deck, but that there's probably a better Jeskai deck. I think BBD likely found it, and his win was very well deserved.